Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Empathy Gap

Being able to define an emotional problem, or any problem for that matter, is often a key step in our learning to overcome it or at least deal with it. Often we say ‘we can’t get our mind around it’, meaning we can’t define or understand it and therefore we can’t deal with it. For example, the saying ‘to understand all is to forgive all’ expresses our need to get our minds around a situation in order to solve it. When cavemen painted images of the wild beasts they encountered, they were as it were ‘getting their minds around it’ or them, which no doubt gave them confidence and courage, or in a word, power.
In today’s information world, words and phrases are our cavemen paintings. When we can reduce a complex problem or relationship to a pithy two-word phrase that immediately conveys the idea (for example ‘moral hazard’) it helps us to get our minds around it.
Today I came across an important one at Motley Fool. An article was exposing the wisdom of superinvestor Sir John Templeton who was famous for saying "The time of maximum pessimism is the best time to buy."

Back to Sir John and his sage advice about picking up people's quality "losers" during sharp sell-offs. Of course, keeping a cool head when the heat is on is easier said than done -- a phenomenon that behavioral economists call an "empathy gap."

From The Motley Fool. Read the full article here.

An empathy gap… We instantly know what it means in this context and we instantly recognize its applicability in other areas of our lives. Any time that we know what we should do but are influenced by what those around us are doing, we are experiencing an empathy gap. Living a frugal life in the midst of conspicuous consumption all around us is to experience the empathy gap. Being kind and courteous, being a gentleman when our entourage is far from gentlemanly is to live in the empathy gap. Doing the right thing, for example lending money wisely to homebuyers who qualify when other companies are raking in the money by lending to anyone, is to be strong in the face of the empathy gap.
Of course, we can only experience an empathy gap when we actually know what it is we should do. This is where philosophy can help us, the philosophy we have gained from our own experiences certainly but also the philosophy we can learn from others. There is a great power in this: their knowledge is like a limitless expanse of caveman wall paintings spread before us. The greatest minds past and present left them for us to gaze at. They got their minds around the great problems. All we have to do is to integrate and apply their philosophy in our own lives. And the more we know about philosophy, the easier it becomes for us to sail our own course, the true course, in spite of the empathy gap.
Now we have defined what an empathy gap is, we can be more aware of its danger.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

On being a gentleman - the Western view

He would be the finer gentleman who leaves the world untainted with falsehood, or dissimulation, or wantonness, or conceit. Marcus Aurelius

A man can never be a true gentleman in manner until he is a true gentleman at heart. Charles Dickens

Propriety of manners and consideration for others are the two main characteristics of a gentleman. Disraeli

The flowering of civilization is the finished man, the man of sense, of grace, of accomplishment, of social power – the gentleman. Ralph Waldo Emerson

The gentleman does not needlessly and unnecessarily remind an offender of a wrong he may have committed against him. He not only can forgive, he can forget; and he strives for that nobleness of self and mildness of character which impart sufficient strength to let the past be but the past. A true man of honour feels humbled himself when he cannot help humbling others. Robert E. Lee

The gentleman is a man of culture, a man of refinement, above all an honest man possessing that good taste which is the conscience of the mind, that conscience which is the good taste of the soul. James Russel Lowell

I am a gentleman of blood and breeding. Shakespeare

Men of courage, men of sense and men of letters are frequent; but a true gentleman is what one seldom sees. Sir Richard Steele

My experience has been that the time to test a true gentleman is to observe him when he is in contact with individuals of a race that is less fortunate than his own. Booker T. Washington

From ‘A Gentleman’s Code’ edited by Philip Chew Khen Hoe

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

On being a gentleman - Mencius

The virtue of a just and benevolent man spreads faster than an order transmitted from posting station to posting station.

A gentleman has a sensitive heart which cannot bear to see suffering in others.

The feeling of compassion is the beginning of benevolence;
The feeling of shame and self-reproach, the beginning of righteousness;
The feeling of courtesy and modesty, the beginning of propriety;
The feeling of right and wrong, the beginning of wisdom.
These four beginnings are like the four limbs of man and to deny oneself any of these potentialities is to cripple oneself.

A man has to live with himself; so he should see to it that he is always good company.

A virtuous man cannot be led into excesses when wealthy and honoured, or be deflected from his purpose when poor and obscure. Nor can he be made to bow before threats of violence.

Do not wait until next year to put an end to anything that is wrong or unrighteous now.

If others do not respond to your love with love, look into your own heart;
If others fail to respond to your attempts to teach and lead them, look into your own wisdom;
If others do not return your courtesy, look into your own motives.
In all cases, examine yourself whenever you fail to achieve your purpose.

A man has to overcome all pettiness before he can achieve greatness. He must decide what he should not do, and then he is able to concentrate on what he should do.

Even when unexpected vexations come his way, a gentleman refuses to be perturbed by them.

In making friends with others, do not rely on the advantage of your age, rank or powerful connections. Friends are chosen for their virtue, nothing else.

There is goodness out of adversity. Exhaustion, hunger, hardship, poverty, bitterness and frustration will stimulate a man’s mind, toughen his character and make good his defects.

Rectify the mistakes in others by first rectifying them in yourself.

A bad year cannot starve one who has accumulated sufficient wealth; a wicked generation cannot confound one who has laid up a full store of virtue.

If a man build up the nobler part of his nature, then the baser part cannot overcome it.

A great man forever retains the heart of a child.

From 'A Gentleman's Code', edited by Philip Chew Kheng Hoe

Friday, October 10, 2008

Never run out of bullets

What is this violent, military maxim doing on a blog about healing philosophy, you ask? Bear with me and I shall tell you. It begins with this quote from an article at the Motley Fool, 8 October 2008 (read full article here):

A gaggle of global central bankers joined forces this morning, simultaneously cutting interest rates in a worldwide showing of economic force not seen since 9/11… in what amounts to a desperate attempt to get financial markets to stop hemorrhaging. Switzerland, Canada, Sweden, the Bank of England, and the European Central Bank all followed suit. Japan would have loved to join the party, but it's been on the rate-cut bandwagon for years. With its rate already at a dismal 0.5%, Japan ran out of bullets a long time ago.

This made me laugh. Although the subject is very serious, I loved Morgan Housel’s colourful analogy. A sense of humour is a great asset and ‘weapon’ when we are going through a bad patch. And it got me thinking. Those Japanese central bankers are not the only ones caught without any bullets at a time when they need them. If you are like me and wish you had prudently laid aside some cash going into this crisis, like Warren Buffet, so you could do some fire-sale shopping, then you know how it feels to have no bullets.
The concept could be applied to many aspects of our lives. If you are burning the candle at both ends in your career, to the detriment of your health and vitality, you are like John Wayne blazing away willy nilly with two machine guns. You will be out of bullets before long. Better to find some cover, stay cool and make those bullets count.
When we are going through hard times in other ways, we may feel as though we have no bullets left. That is when we can turn to philosophy and lift our minds. In this very blog you will find bullets and magazines lying around everywhere. You will find books and people and links to whole ammunition dumps full of bullets of all kinds. You need never run out of bullets again. Not like those poor Japanese central bankers.

Photo by Fernando Weberich

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Moral Awakening

The following is a snippet of an interview between Globe Investor Magazine’s Jason Chow and Ben Stein, dated 18 September 2008 (see the full interview here):

Chow: Financial stocks have gone down because of scandals and mismanagement in subprime lending. What needs to be done there?

Stein: We need more regulation. We need, in particular, rules for non-banks, the highly leveraged entities that raise money by securitizing instruments and loans. They are so large at this ­­point that they rival banks in size, and they’re virtually unregulated.
Also, what we really need—and I hate to say this because it sounds so naive—is a moral awakening on Wall Street. They need to know they’re not just there to make some quick money.

Chow: Are there any moral models to follow?

Stein: No. We have one supermodel, maybe, and that would be Warren Buffett, but even he’s a speculator.

Moral awakening. What a beautiful phrase that is, implying regret, enlightened realization, reform, redemption! Perhaps the time for a moral awakening has at last come. Perhaps it took a global earthquake of shattered confidence and a look into the abyss of financial apocalypse to bring us to this point. But perhaps this is the good that will come of the situation. There is always some good in every bad situation, always some opportunity in every crisis. The Chinese character for crisis is made up of two other characters: danger and opportunity.
As for Warren Buffet, I feel that Ben Stein is right in calling him a moral model, or rather supermodel. And I think he is wrong in taking away from that by calling Buffet a speculator. In my book, a man whose ‘favourite holding period is forever’ cannot be called a speculator. If he buys when others are selling and is fearful when others are greedy, that is not speculation, it looks more like leadership to me. His prudent foresight provided him and Berkshire Hathaway with 31B$ in cash on hand going into this crisis, which now allows him to lend a hand to poor billion-dollar internationals in need. His ideas, like his plan to partly privatize the toxic securities, are needed today.
Warren Buffet called this crisis 'an economic Pearl Harbour’. I think Buffet may well turn out to be ‘an economic Winston Churchill’.

See also : Moral Leadership and Integrity – the lesson of the swamp plant

P.S. From Globeinvestor today 10 October 2008 (read full article here):

Many investors have been looking for global leadership, but Mr. Bush is a lame duck ahead of the Nov. 4 presidential election…. One strategist said he feared a political vacuum with weak governments in Europe and North America. “It's not like we have a Franklin Roosevelt and a Churchill,” said Marc Chandler, global head of currency strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

On being a gentleman - Confucius

Judging by the number of visits to my post On being a gentleman, there is a great thirst for knowledge on the subject of what it means to be one. And rightly so, since being a gentleman encompasses in one word the highest attainment of philosophy.
Here we are not interested in the men’s magazines’ idea of a gentleman: what the fashionable man is wearing, how to look like a gentleman without being one. (The rare times I have picked up one of these magazines I have been struck by the lack of moral awareness, the obsession with fashion and the latest gadgets, the low 'how to' advice on one-upmanship).
Here we are only concerned with the inner gentleman. Certainly a gentleman takes an interest in his appearance and manners in order not to offend or suffer disrespect. But he is infinitely more concerned with improving his character.
All cultures seem to have the concept of the gentleman, whether they call him in their language a great man, a holy man, a sage, or a wise man. I have one book of quotes on the Chinese view of the gentleman called ‘A Gentleman’s Code’, edited by Philip Chew Kheng Hoe. I give a selection of his quotes here, all attributed to Confucius. In another post I will give some by Mencius.

A great man feels no discomposure when others fail to appreciate his ability and integrity.

A gentleman is not concerned about others not knowing him. His great concern is his not knowing how to be an ideal gentleman.

A great man does not grieve that others do not know him; he grieves at his own lack of ability.

Be versed in ancient ideas and familiarise yourself with the new. Then may you become a worthy teacher of men.

It is moral cowardice to be faced with what is right and leave it undone.

A gentleman finds peace of mind in virtue and he covets it.

He who knows wisdom is not equal to him who loves it; and he who loves widom is not equal to him who finds delight in practising it.

A gentleman tries to banish from his bearing all traces of violence and arrogance, to remove from his actions all insincerity, to purge from his speech all vulgarity and impropriety.

If one has admirable gifts and yet is arrogant and mean, then all the rest of one’s qualities are not worth speaking of.

It is the way of the gentleman to prefer the concealment of his virtue while it daily becomes more illustrious, and it is the way of the base man to seek notoriety while he daily goes more and more to ruin.

A man is ailing if he makes no progress in virtue, learns nothing new, abandons no bad habits and corrects no mistakes.

What do you say of a person who is loved by all the good people in his neighbourhood and is hated by all the bad people in his neighbourhood?

Is not he a gentleman who repays injury with kindness and kindness with kindness?

A gentleman demands much of himself; a mean man demands much of others.

A gentleman is devoted to principles; he is not merely truthful.

In the service of his country, a gentleman places duty first and reward last.

It is bad to eat one’s fill all day long but do nothing to feed the mind.

The faults of a great man may be compared to the eclipses of the sun and moon which are seen by everyone. But when he reforms, all men gaze at him with respect.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Moral leadership

Watching (and experiencing) the upheaval in the financial world, I cannot but think that there will be more and more people in need of some healing philosophy in the coming weeks and months! At times like these, passions are high. Blame is attached. The people demand a reckoning. Here is a heartfelt and scathing attack on Wall Street managers from Bill Mann at my favourite financial site, The Motley Fool:

And we have folks in our midst who are capable of reading financial statements. Remember those big fat bonuses you got last year for turning toxic paper into AAA-rated inverse IO Strips which you dumped on some benighted bank somewhere (who really ought to have known better)? If your bonuses come within an order of magnitude of where they were last year, I'm pretty sure there will, in fact, be bloodthirsty mobs.

Read the full post here: Dear Wall Street

It is entirely normal to feel this way, it is human nature. And there must be change if we are to get out of this mess and avoid it in the future. But perhaps it is really ourselves we need to safeguard against. We need to safeguard against human nature. I realised this when I read an interview with Warren Buffet, the billionaire investor, the ‘Oracle of Omaha’:

In a subsequent interview with, Buffett said he wasn't interested in placing blame for the crisis.
"I don't worry too much about pointing fingers at the past," he said. "I operate on the theory that every saint has a past, every sinner has a future."
He said the problem boils down to widely held assumption during the housing boom that prices could only go up. And while the theory's flaws are all too apparent now, the misconception is understandable, said Buffett, pointing to previous asset bubbles going back centuries.
"There are not bad guys in that situation," said Buffett. "It's a condition of human nature."

I only recently paid much attention to the financial world and therefore only recently discovered Warren Buffet. But the more I read his interviews and his letters to shareholders, the more I am impressed with his moral leadership. This is all the more impressive considering his immense wealth and power. Perhaps he is the living proof that it pays to be a gentleman in the long run, he is a living ‘tree on the mountain’.

See also: Integrity – the lesson of the swamp plant and Moral hazard

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The power of the subconscious mind

Our subconscious mind has far-reaching powers beyond our limited understanding. It can remember everything that has ever happened to us even when we can’t. Through its connection to the universal ‘affiliate program’, our subconscious can access universal knowledge and memory. Under hypnosis people can speak foreign languages, play the piano or ‘become Napoleon’. The subconscious never sleeps. It controls all our bodily functions from the heartbeat to assimilation and healing. If once the subconscious believes something to be true, it sets about manifesting that reality in our lives. As the saying goes, ‘Be careful what you desire, because you just might get it’. Ford said

If you believe you can do a thing or if you believe you can’t, you are right.

Doctors are, or should be, very careful about uttering a ‘condemning word’ to a patient. There are many examples of patients doing well until believing themselves to have a fatal disease at which point they ‘accept the condemnation’ and quickly decline into death.
If you find all this hard to believe, I recommend you read ‘The Power of Your Subconscious Mind’ by Dr. Joseph Murphy. This book, first published in 1963, looks somewhat plain and drab when you pick it up. When I gave my son a copy he hardly gave it a glance. There is nothing to suggest you have in your hands a book that contains unlimited power. But that is what it is.
Dr. Murphy, like a modern-day Lao Tzu, knocks on all our doors to make us come out and see the light. Relationships, career, money, health, confidence, every aspect of life is dealt with and the effects of the correct or incorrect use of the subconscious are convincingly expounded. The basis of the truth of the subconscious can be found in all the world’s wisdom. For example, in the Bible we find:

Whosever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Mark 11:29

We all know or know of people who have accomplished great things because they believed in themselves. There was never any doubt in their mind (conscious and subconscious) as to the eventual outcome, and their subconscious made it manifest.
In his book about surviving the Nazi death camps, ‘Man’s search for meaning’, Victor Frankl tells us those inmates who survived were without exception those who ‘had a reason for living’ and never entertained the possibility that they might not live.

I hope I have said enough for you to discover this book for yourself. I will leave you with an affirmation from Dr. Murphy’s book that has the power to heal. It has a great calming, regenerating effect and I often fall asleep reciting it. Try it for yourself:

The perfection of God is now being expressed through me. The idea of perfect health is now filling my subconscious mind. The image God has of me is a perfect image and my subconscious mind recreates my body in perfect accordance with the perfect image held in the mind of God.

Ship's log - October 2008

We often take our health for granted until we lose it. My body has been complaining about that to me lately. So in my post on Health I offer a reminder that health should be our first priority. You will also find I have updated the sidebar text on Health with some very powerful quotes that I dug up. For example: ‘The groundwork of all happiness is health’ - Leigh Hunt.
I remember when I was going through a very bad patch many years ago, I devoted a lot of time to karate. I didn’t know it fully then, but this was an excellent thing to do under the circumstances. It was probably karate and exercise that got me through. Very often we neglect our health when facing other problems. So if you are going through a bad patch also, the first and best thing to do is to look at your health and vitality level and concentrate on bringing it up to par. It makes everything else easier to handle. By the way I have added a ‘Followers’ gadget just below this log (‘Ship’s crew’). So if you can ‘hand, reef and steer’, or want to learn, put your thumbprint on the dotted line and join the ship.

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)
Kiyomizudera Temple has a large veranda looking out over Kyoto and beyond