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Festina Lente

When we are in the biggest hurry is when we need to slow down and take our time. You know what I mean. You're running late, and in your rush to get out the door, you knock over your coffee, making matters that much worse. Festina lente is a Latin expression for "Make haste slowly." The saying dates back to at least the 4th century, BC. It expresses great wisdom in the paradox that slowing down can be the fastest way to get things done. There are many similar paradoxes from which we can draw wisdom.

Solomon's Paradox: People are much better at giving advice than they are at following their own advice.

Solomon’s Paradox is a great one. King Solomon was famous for his wisdom. The only problem was, he didn’t follow his own advice. The lesson is not that his advice was unworthy. The lesson is that saying is usually easier than doing. So, before we dole out our next moral platitude, maybe we should take a humility break to acknowledge our own struggles. Right. If you’re paying attention, that was a moral platitude about moral platitudes. I’m working on it.

The road to success is paved with failure. — Joey Green

You might have heard this one. We commonly think of failing as the opposite of success, so it seems like a paradox to fail our way to success. The quote and book title is a variation on the Silicon Valley mantra of “Fail Fast, Fail Often.” Failure is a powerful teacher, and if we are not failing it probably means we are playing it too safe. But the cavalier “Fail Fast, Fail Often” philosophy seems to ignore the BIG FAILURE that takes you out of the game for good. Friedrich Nietzsche got closer when he said, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Failing can be helpful, but it is possible to go too far.

The Paradox of Self-Interest: The best way to help ourselves is to help others.

I want to end with this one because it is so important. This is the concept of enlightened self-interest. I fully embrace this idea, with one caveat: our first responsibility is to care for ourselves, so we don’t become a burden to others. After that, consideration for others has multiplying effects that those who are selfish and stingy cannot fathom.

The common example is the instructions for the oxygen mask on airplanes. The flight crew tell us to put the mask on ourselves first, before putting it on our children. Why? Because, if we pass out from hypoxia, we won't be much good to our children, or anyone else. The challenge is in where to draw the line on self-care and self-interest. Breathing that oxygen feels good, so why not take the masks from your neighbors and kids too? Culturally, the western world may go too far on this, but I see signs of the pendulum swinging the other way and am optimistic for the future.


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