"The linkage of men's ethics, reputations, and fates can be studied in even more vivid detail in prison camp. In that brutally controlled environment a perceptive enemy can get his hooks into the slightest chink in a man's ethical armor and accelerate his downfall. Given the right opening, the right moral weakness, a certain susceptibility on the part of the prisoner, a clever extortionist can drive his victim into a downhill slide that will ruin his image, self-respect and life in a very short time...I am thinking of the tragedy that can befall a person who has such a need for love or attention that he will sell his soul for it." (p. 29)
Monday, April 21, 2008
"Education should take care to illuminate values, not bury them amongst the trivia. Are our students getting the message that without personal integrity intellectual skills are worthless?
"...When supported with education, a person's integrity can give him something to rely on when his perspective seems to blur, when rules and principles seem to waver, and when he's faced with hard choices of right or wrong. It's something to keep him on the right track, something to keep him afloat when he's drowning; if only for practical reasons, it is an attribute that should be kept at the very top of a young person's consciousness." (p. 28)
Thursday, April 17, 2008
"The typical parenting expert, like experts in other fields, is prone to sound exceedingly sure of himself. An expert doesn't so much argue the various sides of an issue as plant his flag firmly on one side. That's because an expert whose argument reeks of restraint or nuance often doesn't get much attention. An expert must be bold if he hopes to alchemize his homespun theory into conventional wisdom. His best chance of doing so is to engage the public's emotions, for emotion is the enemy of rational argument. And as emotions go, one of them--fear--is more potent than the rest." (p. 148)
Parents matters less about what parents do than what they are. "Parents who are well educated, successful, and healthy tend to have children who test well in school; but it doesn't seem to much matter whether a child is trotted off to museums or spanked or sent to Head Start or frequently read to or plopped in front of the television.
"For parents--and parenting experts--who are obsessed with child-rearing technique, this may be sobering news. The reality is that technique looks to be highly overrated.
"But this is not to say that parents don't matter. Plainly they matter a great deal. Here is the conundrum: by the time most people pick up a parenting book, it is far too late. Most of the things that matter were decided long ago--who you are , whom you married, what kind of life you lead. If you are smart, hardworking, well educated, well paid, and married to someone equally fortunate, then your children are more likely to succeed. (Nor does it hurt, in all likelihood, to be honest, thoughtful, loving, and curious about the world.) But it isn't so much a matter of what you do as a parent; it's who you are." (p. 175)
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
"Sandman's 'control' principle might also explain why most people are more scared of flying in an airplane than driving a car. Their thinking goes like this: since I control the car, I am the one keeping myself safe; since I have no control of the airplane, I am at the mercy of myriad external factors.
"So which should we actually fear more, flying or driving?
"If you are taking a trip and have the choice of driving or flying, you might wish to consider the per-hour death rate of driving versus flying. It is true that many more people die in the United States each year in motor vehicle accidents (roughly forty thousand) than in airplane crashes (fewer than one thousand). But it's also true that most people spend a lot more time in cars than in airplanes. (More people die even in boating accidents each year than in airplane crashes; as we saw with swimming pools versus guns, water is a lot more dangerous than most people think.) The per-hour death rate of driving versus flying, however, is about equal. The two contraptions are equally likely (or, in truth, unlikely) to lead to death." (p. 150-151)
"We have evolved with a tendency to link causality to things we can touch or feel, not to some distant or difficult phenomenon. We believe especially in near-term causes: a snake bites your friend, he screams with pain, and he dies. The snakebite, you conclude, must have killed him. Most of the time, such a reckoning is correct. But when it comes to cause and effect, there is often a trap in such open-and-shut thinking. We smirk now when we think of ancient cultures that embraced faulty causes--the warriors who believed, for instance, that it was their raping of a virgin that brought them victory on the battlefield. But we too embrace faulty causes, usually at the urging of an expert proclaiming a truth in which he has a vested interest." (p. 140)
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
"There are enough guns in the United States that if you gave one to every adult, you would run out of adults before you ran out of guns. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. homicides involve a gun, a far greater fraction than in other industrialized countries. Our homicide rate is also much higher than in those countries. It would therefore seem likely that our homicide rate is so high in part because guns are so easily available. Research indeed shows this to be true.
"But guns are not the whole story. In Switzerland, every adult male is issued an assault rifle for militia duty and is allowed to keep the gun at home. On a per capita basis, Switzerland has more firearms than just about any other country, and yet it is one of the safest places in the world. In other words, guns do not cause crime. That said, the established U.S. methods of keeping guns away from the people who do cause crime are, at best, feeble. And since a gun--unlike a bag of cocaine or a car or a pair of pants--lasts pretty much forever, even turning off the spigot of new guns still leaves an ocean of available ones." (p. 131-132)
Monday, April 14, 2008
"The first trick of asking questions is to determine if your question is a good one. Just because a question has never been asked does not make it a good one. Smart people have been asking questions for quite a few centuries now, so many of the questions that haven't been asked are bound to yield uninteresting answers.
"But if you can question something that people really care about and find an answer that may surprise them--that is, if you can overturn the conventional wisdom--then you may have some luck." (p. 89)
Saturday, April 12, 2008
"Self discipline was vital to self-respect, which in turn is vital to survival and meaningful participation in a POW organization. Self-indulgence is fatal. Daily ritual seems essential to mental and spiritual health. I would do 400 pushups a day, even when I had leg irons on, and would feel guilty when I failed to do them. This ritual paid valuable dividends in self-respect, and, incidentally, I learned yesterday at Mayo Clinic that it also paid physical dividends." (p. 10)
Disclaimer: Of course there are certain types of abuse that should never be tolerated and should be reported to authorities. The statements below are from James Stockdale, who was a Vietnam prisoner of war for 7.5 years, on lessons learned from taking that brutal abuse.
"For what it is worth, I learned the merits of men having taken the physical abuse of body contact in sports. It is a very important experience; you have to practice hurting. There is no question about it.
"Second, survival school was based on taking mental harassment...I hope we do not ever dilute those things. You have to practice being hazed. You have to learn to take a bunch of junk and accept it with a sense of humor." (p. 8)