Monday, December 26, 2016

Ethics, Marcus Aurelius, Harvard and Success

I believe courtesy is the doorway to ethics.  I used Marcus Aurelius to empathize courtesy to my son.  In the opening of his book, the Roman Emperor Aurelius wrote, "Courtesy and serenity of temper I first learnt to know from  my grandfather Versus." (Translation by Maxwell Staniforth, the best of all the translations.)  I pointed out to my son when we studied the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius that this was the emperor of the Roman Empire, a wealthy and powerful man, a general who waged war, and his first thought expressed in his book was about courtesy.  So the next time you hold a door open for someone and say, "after you," you can remember that courtesy was important to one of the most famous of the Roman Emperors.

Some of my Christian friends will undoubtedly wonder why I used anything other than the Bible to teach ethics to my son.  There are many people in this world who are not Christians and we need some common reference points to navigate through the seas of moral challengers we all face.  The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius are well known and widely respected.

There are a number of people in Plano who wish their children to be successful in life.  Some Plano parents hope their children get admitted to the major Ivies (Harvard, Princeton and Yale).  Everyone who hopes their child can go to Harvard should give their child the best education possible before their child goes to Harvard, and this includes the best possible moral education.  If you want your child to go to Harvard you might read this book:  Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class by Ross Gregory Douthat.  You can see in this book that Harvard provides a poor undergraduate education.  Harvard is all about connections.  Remember Steve Ballmer became president of Microsoft because he played poker with Bill Gates at Harvard.  I suspect that Harvard provides a fine education in mathematics and the hard sciences and that their weakness is in the liberal arts.

What good is success if it lands you in jail?  There are so many successful people who end up in trouble with the law that Harvard Business School professor Eugene Soltes has written a book on the topic:  Why They Do It: Inside the Mind of the White-Collar Criminal.  I highly recommend a review of the book in the Wall Street Journal:  The Psychopath in the C-Suite by Philip Delves Broughton (Dec. 14, 2016).  Here is a snippet from this book review:

Mr. Soltes tells the story of Computer Associates, a once-mighty software company. In 2004, the SEC charged its chief executive, global head of sales and general counsel with misrepresenting their revenues to meet Wall Street’s earnings estimates. (The CEO, Sanjay Kumar, was sentenced to 12 years in prison.) Their crime was to pre-print the dates on customer contracts in order to book revenue in one quarter even though a sale was actually closed in the next.

It is important for our children to know that breaking accounting or SEC rules can land them in prison.  Hopefully, a good moral education can strengthen our children's resolve to do what is right and avoid the lure of getting ahead by cutting corners.  Avoiding doing wrong has to be instinctive.  One has to avoid even considering cheating.  (I won't get started on cheating in high school.)

Will your children, looking back on a happy and successful life, say like Marcus Aurelius that from their parents or grandparents they first learned courtesy?  They learned a moral life that steered them safely through the storms of life?

Your friend and neighbor,

PS: If you read and like the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and want another book on Stoicism,
I recommend On Duties by Marcus Tullius Cicero (Author), E. M. Atkins (Editor), M. T. Griffin (Translator).  I found it an amazing book on ethics.  You might hear about the Enchiridion of Epictetus.  I don't care for the the Enchiridion, but I do recommend this exposition on it:  Courage Under Fire: Testing Epictetus's Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior by James B. Stockdale.  Admiral Stockdale won the Medal of Honor and was the Vice-Presidential candidate for Ross Perot's run for the Presidency.  If you are looking for non-Christian literature on ethics, I prefer Confucianism to Stoicism. I wrote a book on Confucianism:  Achieve Lasting Happiness: Timeless Secrets to Transform Your Life.  I believe Confucianism is more positive and encouraging than Stoicism.
Here is an article on the Translations of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius (  There are a number of translations available