Learning to Lead Your Mind

It was the largest and most frightening masterpiece of engineering of its time and was intended to change the balance of power in the Atlantic.  In 1941, Germany’s battleship Bismarck was over 25 percent larger than the USS Arizona and in its first naval battle sunk the British flagship the HMS Hood in a matter of minutes.  However, it was disabled when an aging World War I era biplane managed to hit its rudder with a torpedo.  Rendering it inoperative, this small but vulnerable part of the ship turned the mighty dreadnaught into a helpless target that was sunk just three days after its first victorious engagement.

With all the technology we have available to us, the most marvelous piece of equipment we are endowed with is our mind.  Yet it is only as effective as our ability to steer it where we want it to go.  A faulty decision or a wrong assumption can cause us to lose the rudder to our potential and make us easy prey to the forces that can sink us.

That’s Greek To Me

The Greeks, as much as any culture, understood the importance of the mind.  They correctly deduced that success in nearly every arena of life came as a result of protecting and cultivating this vital resource.   In fact their word for discipline, “sophron,” means “to save . . . the mind.”

Education isn’t primarily learning “what to think,” facts and figures, dates and dead people, but learning “how to think.”  What is more, real education goes beyond training our rational faculty alone.  Michael Eisner, who some believe rescued the Disney brand from possible extinction, once commented, “It’s not a lack of intellectual capacity that brings a corporate culture down; intelligence is a given.  It is the emotional and egotistical factors that have to be kept in check.”  Talent and ability may bring success, but they don’t sustain success.  As Elmer Letterman said, “Personality can open doors, but only character can keep them open.”  Or as C.S. Lewis observed, “Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.”

Remembering Dorian Grey

Oscar Wilde was a popular playwright in the 19th Century and is still widely quoted today.  He was one of the leaders of the Decadence Movement.  Decadence is often defined as a loss of excellence, obstructing the pursuit of ideals and unrestrained or excessive self-indulgence.  It is typified by the elevation of cleverness, intellectualism, talent and pretension over traditional morality.

He however wrote, “The gods had given me almost everything . . . Tired of being on the heights, I deliberately went to the depths in search of a new sensation.  I grew careless of the lives of others.  I took pleasure where it pleased me, and passed on.  I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character and therefore what one has done in secret someday will be cried aloud from the housetop.  I ceased to be lord over myself.  I was no longer the captain of my soul and did not know it.  I allowed pleasure to dominate me.  I ended in horrible disgrace.”

Wilde graphically illustrated this decent into the abyss in his only published novel The Picture of Dorian Grey.  Though Dorian enjoyed the appearance of eternal youth, the impact his excesses had on his character and his soul were seen horribly in his famous portrait, which in a fit of despondency he eventually stabbed with the same dagger he had used to kill another, resulting in his death.

Life affords us the incredible opportunity to paint our portrait as well, so, steer your head!