Lessons in Life

One of the most valuable lessons I learned, at a very early age, was how to deal with opinions expressed about me by other people. If someone praised me or something I did, I learned to look critically at myself or the deed to see if there was any merit in what they said. After all, they could simply be trying to win favor with me for their own ends. And if I was criticized, I would go through the same process, and if I found merit in the criticism, I would look for ways to change.

At first, for personal guidance, I relied on things I read in the Bible — the Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule and other things from the Book of Matthew — and things I read in the writings of early Greek philosophers (Socrates, Plato and Aristotle). Socrates was more moral, Aristotle was more logical. Then, when I reached the age of 11, I had the Boy Scout Law to guide me: “a Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave clean and reverent.” These things helped me evaluate my behavior, demeanor and comments made about me by other people.

Another important lesson was learning the difference between antipathy and sympathy, between inherent negativity of the critic and constructive criticism. I have never been averse to people offering criticism of me; valid criticism can help us to steer a better course through life. In fact, constructive criticism is stock-in-trade for good teachers, editors and managers, and is often accompanied by suggestions for improvement. Those who truly care about us, who want us to do a better job or lead happier, more productive lives will not just demean or criticize us, but will help us to find ways to improve. And knowing that is a key to choosing our friends and colleagues.

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