Monday, September 6, 2010

The Gates of Hell are Locked from the Inside

Greg Mankiw is giving advice to Freshman;  Here is my take:
The irony of giving advice is that no one will listen to it—or follow it—until they have gained enough experience to appreciate it.  Typically this means making the very mistakes that led to the advice on how to avoid the mistakes.  So instead of telling you to wear sunscreen, or to learn how to think[1] and write[2] in college, I am going to give you advice on how to learn from your own mistakes so that you can discover—and give—advice to others.  Here is the basic idea:  
The gates of hell are locked from the inside. 
This means that whenever you become angry, annoyed, hurt, or alienated, it has nothing to do with other people.  It is all about you.  If you can figure out what it is, you will learn who you are. 
I stumbled across this principle about 25 years ago when I was walking home from my job in Washington, DC.  I was lost in thought and a dog startled me with a loud bark when I passed by his front yard.  I was so angry that I yelled at the dog and kicked the fence (the dog was not hurt).
By the time I calmed down, it became clear to me that my reaction had nothing to do with the dog.  My girlfriend was getting ready to dump me, and I was in what seemed like a dead-end job.  The dog was only a metaphor for my own shortcomings.  Once I realized this, I let my girlfriend go, found Lisa, and worked my way into a much better life. 
Good luck--and don’t forget to floss.  

[1] Avoid the inter-disciplinary majors like HOD (Human and Organizational Development) as they fill in the much-needed gaps between the traditional disciplines. 
[2] Good writing follows clear thinking.  If you learn how to think, writing will come easily.  

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