How to Survive in a Hostile World

The recent Bernie Madoff saga, in which a man of unquestioned repute established over a half century reveals a willingness to swindle anyone and everyone, teaches an important lesson.  It is you may never place your confidence in another person without question or reservation.  This is a hostile world in which we live.  If you are to survive with your bankroll and sanity intact, you must adhere to certain rules.  Five of these rules are listed below.

Rule I.  For a helping hand, look to the end of your arm.

This may be cliché, but to drive home the point, a trite platitude sometimes does the job.  No one will match your personal involvement in your own well being.  You must be an active participant, if for no other reason than you cannot rely upon others.  This is true regardless of their position or supposed expertise.  In all circumstances where you must retain others to further your interests, it’s vital you take an active roll in the decision-making.   Without your aggressive participation, your fortunes are in the hands of fate.  Do not passively defer to others.

Rule II.  Do not ignore human nature.

Humans are not at the top of the animal heap by accident.  Though the elephants are bigger and stronger, the tigers more ferocious, and the rodents far more numerous, we Homo sapiens best them all by our craft and cunningness.  Is it then surprising when we use this connivery on each other?  The possibilities are limitless.  By testimonial, I’ll relate a few experiences in my long and diversified life: a professional property manager who contracted for maintenance services on my properties at one price and billed me at four times that price; an attorney who charged me for countless hours of legal services never performed; a securities analyst who recommend my investment in a particular stock while simultaneously dumping the same stock from his own account as the corporation geared up for bankruptcy.  The point I stress is this: The likelihood is you’ll be taken advantage of in every situation unless you strive to prevent it.

Rule III.  Pay attention to Murphy’s Law.

Mounted on an eleven-by-fourteen-inch parchment in a black frame, under glass, in my office bathroom is one of the many versions of Murphy’s Law.  It reads:

Murphy’s Law

(or the optimist creed)

“Nothing is as easy as it looks.

Everything takes longer than you expect.

And if anything can go wrong¾it will

At the worst possible moment.”

Although overstated for humor and effect, Murphy’s Law contains a load of truth.  It reminds us complexity is accompanied by consequences not easily foretold.  Experience shows that as variables increase, more things go wrong, and as Murphy points out, unpredictability leads to troubles, with total breakdown of the system.  Despite this, the needless involvement and complexity incorporated into many people’s lives defy description.  Whatever the reasons, disregard of Murphy’s Law causes untold misery.

Rule IV.  Do not commit to things you don’t understand.

One thing is certain: You must sometimes make decisions for which you are unprepared.  Whenever possible, defer judgment to a more favorable time.  There are instances, however, when you cannot wait.  Under these circumstances you must make your decisions from the best information at the moment.  Frequently you’re required to weigh the advice of others.  Consider closely the source of the counsel.  It can be hazardous to place confidence in persons merely because they are friends or relatives.  The same can be said about the opinions of the wealthy, though it’s not unusual to confuse financial success with knowledge.  The line from the Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roofsummed it up pretty well: “When you’re rich, they think you really know.”  As for accepting the advice of professional advisors, avoid conflicts of interest.  You’re on soundest ground when the advisor does not personally profit from your following the advice offered.

Rule V.  The key to every endeavor is mastery of the details.

If there is a single factor to explain why so many people fail in their undertakings, it is their inability, or perhaps unwillingness, to spend time and energy to collect, evaluate, and utilize information.  Perhaps this is excusable, as little in our training encourages close scrutiny of anything.  I believe the admonition that we must step back to get the big picture is just an excuse to avoid thought.  Instead, view the world, not as a monolith to be comprehended through revelation, but rather as a jigsaw puzzle.  Visualize a multitude of differently shaped and colored pieces sorted, rotated, and fit together, often in unattached clusters, as the picture slowly forms.  In short, the minutiae, which may seem an annoyance obscuring the subject, is often the actual substance assembled to form the subject.  It is only by diligent investigation you know what you are doing, learn what is happening to you, and control the situations that confront you.  As once so eloquently expressed: “When you know the details, no one can lie to you.”

I’ll leave you with the tale of Hermann Klotz, who directed his 5-year old son, Fritz, to run up to the fourth step of the stairway and “ . . . jump into Papa’s arms.”  Little Fritz complied and Hermann caught him with a smile.  “Now,” he said, “run up to the eighth step and jump into Papa’s arms.”  Once again, Fritz obeyed, and again Hermann caught him.  “Now run up to the top step and jump into Papa’s arms,” Hermann directed.  For the third time, Fritz did as told.  However, instead of catching Fritz, Hermann stepped back and let the boy fall flat on his face on the floor.  As little Fritz stared up in shock and disbelief, Hermann said: “Und let that be a lesson to you . . . never trust no one.”

Original article here.