Success or Failure
LUCIA’S NEXT-DOOR NEIGHBOR Gilberto moonwalked down her porch, triumphantly dropping to his knees with a loud, “Gooooooaaaal!” as Lucia opened her front door. He still wore his Mexican National Team Jersey.
His wife Miriam bore a pained expression. “He won’t give it to me to launder. He says I’ll wash the luck out of it,” she explained.
Lucia welcomed them in with a laugh. Inside, Gary greeted them with a tray of pastries. “Coffee, tea, or what you will?” he offered. Coffee, please,” said Miriam.
“Nada, gracias,” said Gilbert.
“Tea for me,” Lucia said. “If I drink coffee, I will philosophize all night, and we must have pity on Gary.” Gary headed toward the kitchen, concealing a grimace.
As they sat, Lucia said, “You know, Gilberto, I have been thinking about what you said last night, celebrating the ‘good luck’ of our team having won the World Cup. I told you that in those events there is not so much random chance like the random chance we experience when we play the slot machine at a casino.”
“Yes, but the real important thing is Mexico takes the World Cup!” he roared.
“Calm down, sweetheart,” Miriam said, patting his thigh.
Lucia plowed forward. “Well, what I wanted to tell you is that in this very competitive sport, what counts are power, force, vigor, self-control, concentration, and so on. All of these are the virtues of the winner.”
Miriam asked, “Is this the definition of virtue that I learned in your philosophy class? Aristotle’s definition? The one that says that virtue is a kind of excellence that improves human quality?”
“Nicely put, Miriam.” Lucia said.
“And we have the best virtue-istic fútbol team in the world — Fútbol Mexicano!” said Gilbert.
“Honey, cool it on the football, okay? You need to be thinking about the virtues you need to win in your job. What do you have to say about that, Lucia?” asked Miriam.
“Gilbert, I think Miriam wants you to hear this,” Lucia said. “So I will use some of the points made by my dear friend Dr. Peter Koestenbaum. In his book Leadership: The Inner Side of Greatness, he uses the Olympic symbol to demonstrate how one can become a leader and a winner.
“First of all, picture the Olympic symbol in your mind, the famous five overlapping circles, three on the top and two on the bottom. Here, I’ll draw them,” said Lucia, hopping up to grab paper and pen. “Now, inside each circle we are going to write one word, starting with Person, then Family, Work, Civic Responsibilities, and Finances, like this.”
“Now let’s draw inside of each circle a rhombus or diamond. On the top angle of the diamond, we’ll put the word ethics; on the bottom angle, courage; on the left side, reality; on the right, vision, like this.”
“And each diamond in each of the five circles has the same words?” asked Miriam.
“Exactly, Miriam. But today we are going to analyze only the side dedicated to the person. And that person is you or Gilbert or yours truly.”
Lucia pointed to her diagram. “The purpose of ethics is to discover the best and the worst in each person. When we are sick, we take our temperature, and we know that the higher the fever, the sicker we are. In philosophy, that temperature is taken with a ‘humanitarian thermometer’ that indicates our moral and ethical health and teaches us to rid ourselves of vices by adding more virtues into our daily conduct. In order to apply this remedy, each one of us must answer the following questions:
“Do I really care for other people by making the effort to understand and respect them, help and advise them, or even remember them?
“Do I really know how to be kind and compassionate with friends and relatives, neighbors and other citizens?
“As a person, do I believe I am excellent, mediocre, good, or bad? What grade can I give my test ethical conduct?
“Returning to our diamond. Let’s analyze courage. According to Plato, we are never going to know the extent of our courage if we don’t confront our own fears.”
“But, what about all of those bullies that cross our paths all the time?” asked Gilbert.
“Bullies?” asked Lucia. “As an adult you deal with bullies?”
“He doesn’t deal with bullies, Lucia,” Miriam said, giving Gilbert a light slap across the shoulder. “He’s talking about our son Fernando. There is a bullying problem at the middle school.”
“I see. That is a problem. But, let’s not confuse courage with bullying and arrogance, or its opposite — cowardliness, timidity, and weakness of character. Do you know that courage is the perfect ingredient to develop equanimity of character and the right tool to solve all our self-created problems?”
“You are so right about that,” Miriam said.
“First of all, we must try not to feel overwhelmed with our problems because a problem always contains a solution,” Lucia noted. “On the other hand, our concern is no longer a problem once it has become a situation, and situations become more bearable by applying strength and resignation.
“When my good friend’s mom became ill, my friend had lots of related problems. She had to fire a nurse, which caused her to have to take over her mom’s care until she found an appropriate replacement. Then she needed a double shift of nurses as her mom got sicker and sicker, until one day she died. Sadly, her mom’s death ended all of those accumulated problems instantly. Now she was left with only one thing to do and that was the application of acceptance and resignation. Do you know what I mean, Miriam?”
“Yes, Lucia, I do.”
“Now, going back to the importance of being conscious of ethical behavior: Imagine a young man waiting for his mom to get home from work. His mom pulls her car into the driveway, and the son asks if she plans to go out tonight. She replies, ‘Are you kidding? I just want to take off my shoes and sit for a while.’ So the son says, ‘So I could drive your car tonight. Am I right?’ By making this jump in logic, the son has done what I call ethically pulling the carpet from underneath his mother. If you were to give the son a grade for ethical behavior, what grade would you give him, Gilbert?”
Gilbert looked up suddenly and exclaimed, “Huh?” Miriam rolled her eyes. Gilbert said, “Don’t blame me. I’m still waiting for her to say something about how luck doesn’t count.”
“I would flunk him immediately,” Miriam said, her eye on Gilbert.
Lucia chuckled. “Now, let’s analyze vision. Visualize an acute angle. Put yourself at the point, and imagine the open side is your field of vision, limited by your ethics and your acceptance of inspiration. If you allow your ethics to develop toward perfection and you become more and more open to inspiration, the angle will continue opening more and more.
“Let me tell you a little story. A man decided to go into business by himself, but then he thought that if his cousin could join him, the business could be stronger and grow. He invited him, but hi cousin said no. He did not want to invest his little savings. The man thanked him for his honesty and opened his business all by himself. Twenty years passed. The man became a millionaire and improved the life of hundreds of employees. His cousin’s financial situation never improved, and he sits every day feeling sorry for himself because he lacked vision when the opportunity that presented twenty years ago. The moral of the story is simple. As the nineteenth-century German philosopher Georg Hegel said very well, ‘Nothing is ever accomplished without enthusiasm.’”
Gilbert had been studying the diagram. “What about reality?” he asked.
“Yes, the fourth side. Gilbert, the purpose of reality is to know how to manage time properly. Lamenting the loss of all of those choices that were never made—such as the choice to have gone to college, have bought a home, put money in the bank, and even exercise and good nutrition—only give the poor person several reasons to be depressed instead of knowing that every day we can discover endless possibilities for better choices that could start now. And for that we must always keep in mind that time has three very important links. That is to say: I am my past, I am my present, and I am my future.”
“Professor, that reminds me of a story told by my psychology teacher. Do we still have time, speaking of time?” Miriam asked.
“I do if you do,” Lucia said, noting Gary stifling a yawn.
Miriam noted the yawn too. She said, “I’ll make this quick. A man goes to see a therapist and says, ‘I don’t know what to do. I want to go to college, but I am thirty-five years old.’ The therapist asks, ‘How old will you be when you finish your degree?’ The guy thinks a minute and replies, ‘With my full-time job and my family responsibilities, it will take at least ten years. I’d be forty-five years old.’ Then the therapist asked, ‘And how old will you be in ten years if you do not go to school?’ The man answers, ‘Hmm, forty-five!’”
Even sleepy Gary laughed at that one. They rose, hugged, and headed toward the door.
“One more thing before you go,” Lucia said. “Back to our diamond: how close do you think you are to winning an ethical Olympic medal? Remember, no one but you can truly evaluate your own ethical scores.”
“We’ll work on it,” Gilbert answered. “And sometime I really want to hear what you say about luck because with our team to win the World Cup, there had to be a lot of luck, along with God and all the gods of the Aztecs throwing all their good will our way.”
“He’ll get better. I promise,” laughed Miriam.
And with that, the neighbors wished each other a very good night.