Monthly Archives: January 2012

Words to Live By

I finished reading Andre Agassi’s book “Open” today.  Not that I am looking to get something out of every book I read, but these two stuck out for me and I hope to use them in my daily life in some way.  The first is his thoughts on people changing.  When he retired or was close to retirement, many things were written as to how he changed from when he was younger to when it was time for him to retire.  This is what he wrote:

Also, several sports writers muse about my transformation, and that word rankles. I think it misses the mark.  Transformation is change from one thing to another, but I started as nothing.  I didn’t transform, I formed.  When I broke into tennis I was like most kids: I didn’t know who I was, and I rebelled at being told by older people.  I think most people make this mistake all the time with younger people, treating them as finished products when in fact they’re in a process.

I think this is very important to remember when dealing with kids.  As they get older we wish they were more grown up or we treat them as if they were adults.  This part of his book puts it so succinctly.  They are learning how to be grown up and rather than judge them we must teach them.  This is much different from 100 years ago.  Kids didn’t have a chance to think about being a teenager.  They had to be adults and didn’t have as much of an opportunity to change.  I will try to use this when dealing with my own kids and the high school kids I coach.

The next thing is a code he has created for the Andre Agassi College Preparatory School, a charter school in Las Vegas that he helped build and continues to fund.  It is the Code of Respect which is recited each day.  It goes:

The essence of good discipline is respect.  Respect for authority and respect for others.  Respect for self and respect for rules.  It is an attitude that begins at the home, is reinforced at school, and is applied throughout life.

What I love about this code is that no where in it is that someone should expect respect from someone else.  Respect is something that is given and not expected.  Too many kids and adults complain that I haven’t gotten respect from this person or that person.  But that misses the point.  I think this code teaches it perfectly.

The book was okay.  Not what I expected.

Book Review – Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

I just finished reading Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, by Walter Isaacson.  Tremendous book about the life of Ben Franklin.  As Mr. Isaacson says in the later chapter of the book, most of us know Franklin as a caricature from the TV and print ads we have seen with a representation of him in them.  Mr. Isaacson brings out the full information about Ben Franklin, warts and all, in this book.  His concluding chapter, I think, is the best of the book and brings it all together.  In this chapter he quickly reviews the opinions that writers and famous Americans have had of Mr. Franklin, both good and bad.  I think he concentrates more on the bad than the good.  However, after doing this, in a section he calls “The Ledger Book”, he does an excellent job defending (if that is the correct word to use) Mr. Franklin.  I think this paragraph, among others in this section, sums it up nicely:

When Max Weber says that Franklin’s ethics are based only on the earning of more money, and when D.H. Lawrence reduces him to a man who pinched pennies and morals, they betray the lack of even a passing familiarity with the man who retired from business at 42, dedicated himself to civic and scientific endeavors, gave up much of his public salaries, eschewed getting patents on his inventions, and consistently argued that the accumulation of excess wealth and the idle indulgence in frivolous luxuries should not be socially sanctioned.  Franklin did not view penny saving as an end in itself but as a path that permitted young tradesmen to be able to display higher virtues, community spirit, and citizenship.

In today’s world many want to do something spectacular for society and Franklin has been criticized for promoting the mundane elements of a civil society.  Mr. Isaacson quotes directly from Franklin’s autobiography to provide a defense of the importance of these mundane tasks.  The following is Mr. Franklin’s defense of his efforts to get the streets of Philadelphia paved:

Some may think these trifling matters not worth minding or relating; but when they consider that though dust blown into the eyes of a single person, or into a single shop on a windy day, is but of small importance, yet the great number of the instances in a populous city, and it frequent repetitions give it weight and consequence, perhaps they will not censure very severely those who bestow some attention to affairs of this seemingly low nature. Human felicity is produced not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day.

What I have taken from this is that it is the mundane that is important.  As an engineer I see this every day from the design of streets to the construction of water and sewer systems.  They are not flashy but are things needed to make life work in the world.