In writing your book, “Through the Fires,” you share experiences of disappointments and failures, even heartbreak. Why didn’t you just focus on your personal triumphs and your business successes? Does it take a lot of courage to tell the whole story?
I don’t consider telling the truth to be an act of courage. There is a reason that people testifying in court take an oath to “tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
If you omit important details, whether in a book or a business deal, you might be technically accurate in what you’re saying. But you’re certainly not being entirely truthful. And if you’re not going to tell the truth in a book, then what’s the point?
If a reader, or a business colleague, learns that you’ve left out some crucial matter, they will justifiably wonder what else you’re hiding.
Moreover, if I didn’t talk about setbacks in business and life, I’d be missing a chance to reach people who are struggling with adversity. Because I have known the feeling of being knocked down, they can relate to my life far more than if I simply talked about ways to make a profit in business.
In asking about courage, you’ve touched on an interesting point. In our society, we increasingly ascribe heroic virtues to actions and decisions that are merely the right thing to do.
People who sacrifice for their children, for instance, or a person who returns a lost wallet full of money instead of keeping it, are frequently portrayed as valiant. In reality, they simply are doing the right thing. And if they are principled people, they don’t even have to give much thought to their actions.
People today are often reluctant to see things as right or wrong. They don’t want to seem ‘judgmental.’ I’m all for compassion, understanding and forgiveness. We all make bad choices. But if we don’t know what’s right or wrong, and if we don’t know what we stand for, then we don’t really know who we are.
In reality, I think we do know in our hearts what is right. In the book, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values,” Robert Pirsig begins this way:
‘And what is good, Phaedrus
And what is not good —
Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?’
In many cases, however, people convince themselves that shading the truth isn’t so bad, especially if they can gain in profit or comfort. But if they have any conscience at all, they will have gained nothing. They will be haunted and ashamed.
The biggest cause of stress, it seems to me, is living our lives in ways that don’t align with what we believe. There is a reason that people who have acted in good will, even if they have fallen short, can say, ‘At least I can sleep at night.’
This is not to say that I don’t believe that there are no genuine acts of courage, large and small. In Nazi Germany, the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg displayed great courage by risking his life to save so many Jews from the gas chambers.
In my case, perhaps the most courageous thing I ever did was stand up to an abusive father. It did not save lives, except perhaps my own. But it gave me the confidence to know that I did not have to define myself in the demeaning terms he hurled at me. I might have to hear his venom. But I didn’t have to believe it.