“Worry, worry is like a rocking chair; it keeps you busy, but it gets you nowhere.”
Though he sided with the losing faction in the turbulent years following the assassination of Julius Caesar (which cost him his life), Marcus Tullius Cicero’s oratory style and political philosophy have been hailed by Renaissance writers as their greatest influence. He was also considered a godfather by the scholars who defined their period as the “Age of Enlightenment.” My favorite observations by the famous orator are contained in his quote on, “Six mistakes mankind keeps making century after century.”
For those who lead and wish to be effective in doing so, his thoughts are priceless.
1. Believing that personal gain is made by crushing others. Coach Vince Lombardi is famous for the maxim, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” The problem is he never said it. His actual words were, “Winning is not everything, but making the effort to win is.” Certainly, everyone wants to win, but in the game of life we do not always win by ensuring someone else must lose. We can realize personal gain without humiliating our competitors.
2. Worrying about things that cannot be changed or corrected. My high school chorus instructor used to sing, “Worry, worry is like a rocking chair; it keeps you busy, but it gets you nowhere.” Indifference is a scourge, but anxiety about what we have no power or ability to correct will drain your life and relationships.
3. Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it. Who among Cicero’s contemporaries could foresee cellphones, computers, automobiles, jet aircraft, television or walking on the moon? Someone once said, “No one knows enough to be a pessimist!” Limiting others because of our own inabilities is the worst form of tyranny and destroys innovation.
4. Refusing to set aside trivial preferences. Winston Churchill once said, “A fanatic is someone who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.” Mind you, Churchill was a man of bedrock convictions. But often we turn the application of an important principle into orthodoxy, which we then defend against all threats, foreign and domestic. We must differentiate between the principle and how we apply it, which may be a personal preference.
5. Neglecting development and refinements of the mind. You would be amazed at the number of people who have not read a single book since they finished school. Yet, the one characteristic I have seen in every successful leader is they are lifelong learners. Quit complaining about the traffic and use the time to take in a great audiobook or podcast.
6. Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do. I would rather translate Cicero’s word “compel” as “force.” We all want to be compelling to others in presenting our ideas and beliefs, whether they are cultural, social, spiritual or political. But I loathe those who try and force me to see it their way or want to shout me down if I disagree with them.
It is amazing how accurate Cicero was, even when viewed more than 2,000 years after his death.