Axiomatic Living

There likely isn’t anything in this life which hasn’t been said before and I can pretty much guarantee you won’t hear anything novel from me. There are however certain truths which bear repeating. I would like to share some of them with you. To illustrate the first universal principle consider this brainteaser, a foceful reminder that things are not always what they appear:

If a baseball and a bat cost $1.10 together, and the bat costs $1.00 more than the ball, how much does the ball cost?

While you cogitate upon that question permit me the cheek to suggest I have some good news for you; namely, that life doesn’t have to be hard. An outsider might readily be forgiven thinking that you have no reason to be unhappy. If you don’t share that categorical summation the good news is that you have it in you to be perfectly happy. But you have to unlock the treasure. A candid analysis will assist.

There is opportunity for scientific discovery in everything. An examination of even the most mundane features of our daily lives provides no end of provender. In our own eyes we may seem less than complicated. And yet the records suggest otherwise, elevating what is merely tawdry empirical data concerning everyday occurrences to the level of knowledge about the very universe. That is, there is (1) an objective reality which is (2) governed by natural laws that are (3) discoverable through observation (and perhaps some experimentation).

What distinguishes science from other forms of knowledge or philosophy is that it is testable and reliable, as in library science or political science. The study of human thought, however, lends itself less agreeably to the methodology. Human thought can become mired in endless convolutions and tortuous contortions. It hardly seems possible to provide any useful insight into the governance of one’s life (assuming that is that there is any such inclination in the first place) in view of what is frequently the illogical and irrational enterprise of living. I mean to say, living your life is not like running a business. Or is it? Can there be rules applicable to the fruitful conduct of one’s life in much the same way as there are dependable business models? Is there an ascertainable hierarchy of dominion which stimulates and regulates our lives? Or is this merely the arena of a standardized franchise, a potentially dampening throttle upon what should be an adventure, not a prediction?

The scientific method is a disciplined way to study the natural world, an attempt to relate the phenomena of the material universe and their laws. Admittedly there is a tendency for the pursuit of knowledge (which after all is what the Latin word “scientia” means) to become bogged down in what is charitably called “formal science” as opposed to the less abstract “applied science” (an example of the latter being the practical question of the best way to live for a human being, the very object of philosophy as touted by Socrates). Note however that Aristotle maintained a sharp distinction between science and practical knowledge (which he somewhat snobbishly considered as less lofty). My own inclination is against theoretical deduction and more for reliance upon raw data to establish universal rules.

Well, that’s unquestionably a heady beginning for what started out as a more entertaining enquiry about the cost of a baseball. The answer (as you probably know) is that the ball cost 5 cents.

The test was designed by Professor Shane Frederick of the MIT Sloan School of Management in America, who claims the question is easy in that the solution is easily understood when explained. To arrive at the right answer candidates need to suppress the first response that springs to the mind and instead work it out logically. But of the 3,000 students Professor Frederick tested, fewer than half gave the correct answer to the question about the relative cost of the bat and a ball.

Undoubtedly most people, given the choice, would opt for a simple code of conduct over a more complicated one. Simple is good not merely because it requires less absorption but because it crystallizes what are often condensed versions of profound truths. Relying upon self-evident truths provides an artless guide. If it helps to digest this, consider the popular desire for getting an “APP” to make something happen.  I believe that each of us has within us all the technology required to help us live a happy life.  You don’t need a SmartPhone or any particular card in your wallet; the only resources you require are already in your heart and mind.  As in all things, however, it helps to have some direction about where to look for the treasure.  And remember, as I was told years ago, “There are two ways to get down a river: Either you know where to go or where not to go“. It’s a simple as that.  Life at its most abstract is binary: On or off.

1. Do what you do best. This has been repeated by many people including no less than the late Steve Jobs. There is a corollary which frequently attends; namely, “Do what you do best and out-source the rest”. Either way it is a mandate to avoid things you dislike, things you find hard to do, things that you cannot perform either expediently or qualitatively. It is axiomatic that if you do what you like, you’ll like what you do.

2. Listen to your instincts. Living intuitively is not exactly what has been fostered by our educational system. For years we are taught to be cerebral not visceral. The emphasis is on rationality not impulsiveness. Nonetheless I am a firm believer in the validity of innate non-rational thinking. We are foremost animals, and like animals we have to train ourselves to trust and rely upon the notions which are deeply embedded in us, ideas which often only become clear with time (hopefully not when we find ourselves saying, “I knew I shouldn’t have done that!”). Acknowledging our inherent aptitudes takes practice and requires routine cultivation, not just lip service.

3. Any damn fool can make money but it takes a smart man to keep it. It may sound trivial to drag money into the subject, but ignorance is not bliss. Too many people aggravate their lives by side-stepping this fundamental edict. If we kept our minds more upon debt reduction and less upon acquisition we would sleep a great deal better and be none the worse for it. The latest jostle of the money market by the Bank of Canada to reduce amortization periods to 25 years from 30 years is a thankful regression. And the dire warnings about possible interest rate hikes are well founded. Cheap money only artificially inflates capital cost but the temporary deception can have devastating fallout (witness the US real estate collapse).

4. Be nicer to others than necessary. As improbable as it may seem, everybody without exception is fighting a battle of one sort or another. Don’t be fooled by appearances. Besides, often the cost of being kind is so much less than the effort required to mount an offensive. You might be quite surprised by the return upon the investment.

5. If she knows why she loves him she doesn’t. I frequently entertain myself by asking people to tell me why they are so fond of one person or another. This conniving enquiry can often lay bare some candid conclusions.

6. Criticism is the best autobiography. There is a fine line between careful commentary and self-reflective abuse. In most instances the author of the invective has no idea what he or she is saying about himself or herself rather than the purported object of the slight.

7. You can’t give what you don’t have. Normally this is an over-riding principle of contract law but it can be useful in many other circumstances.

8. Believe what you see. Credibility is a two-way street. If we are to build dependable and reliable relationships we must strive for authenticity. Accepting what we see in others legitimizes them and can help us avoid a lot of foolishness and subsequent misunderstandings.

9. The harder I work, the luckier I get. This is one of those blunt and unavoidable truths. For as long as I have known, there is nothing like elbow grease to get things moving. Mere intelligence and wit sadly have little to do with sustained accomplishment.

10. Honesty is the best policy as long as you’re not in trouble. Sometimes the truth can do more harm than good. I’m not here counseling scandalous lies; but the occasional bit of taradiddle never hurts. It is possible to be more serious about life than warranted.

In conclusion my final gesture is to share with you this adage, “Don’t be afraid to crawl!”  If you are wrong, admit it, get over it and get on with it.  You’ll be in good company.