Gordon Dean was an American lawyer and prosecutor whose distinguished career was fairly typical for Washington types. He went to work for the Justice Department under President Franklin Roosevelt, taught in the law schools at Duke University and the University of Southern California. He was appointed as one of the original commissioners of the Atomic Energy Commission in 1949 by President Harry Truman, eventually becoming its chairman from 1950-53.
When Dean died in a plane crash in 1958, it’s said that among his personal effects was an envelope with nine life lessons scribbled on the back. These lessons aren’t about the law, or atomic energy, or foreign relations. Rather, they represent wisdom that should be shared and used by people everywhere. These are his superb lessons:
1. Never lose your capacity for enthusiasm.
2. Never lose your capacity for indignation.
3. Never judge people — don’t type them too quickly. But in a pinch never first assume that a man is bad; first assume that he is good and that, at worst, he is in the gray area between bad and good.
4. Never be impressed by wealth alone or thrown by poverty.
5. If you can’t be generous when it’s hard to be, you won’t be when it’s easy.
6. The greatest builder of confidence is the ability to do something — almost anything — well.
7. When confidence comes, then strive for humility; you aren’t as good as all that.
8. The way to become truly useful is to seek the best that other brains have to offer. Use them to supplement your own, and be prepared to give credit to them when they have helped.
9. The greatest tragedies in the world and personal events stem from misunderstandings. So communicate!
The reason I’m so impressed with Dean’s lessons is that — besides being written on an envelope – they apply across the board, to all ages in every profession. They are simple yet profound.
Perhaps you remember Robert Fulghum’s runaway best seller, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” which the author says reminds us that the most basic aspects of life bear its most important opportunities. Again, the life lessons contained in Fulghum’s book are not complicated. It is their simplicity that makes them universal.
You may have noticed that I end every column with a moral — a life lesson of sorts. Some of those morals resulted from experiences that taught me that I still have plenty to learn. We have all learned some lessons along the way, including plenty from the school of hard knocks.
Through the years I have offered more than 1,000 morals in this column and in my books. Naturally, I have some favorites which have universal applications. Here are my top 15:
* They don’t pay off on effort . . . they pay off on results.
* People don’t care how much you know about them once they know how much you care about them.
* Make decisions with your heart and you’ll wind up with heart disease.
* Pale ink is better than the most retentive memory.
* When a person with money meets a person with experience . . . here is what happens . . . the person with the experience winds up with the money and the person with the money winds up with the experience.
* No one ever choked swallowing his or her own pride.
* Sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck
* If you don’t learn from your mistakes, there’s no sense in making them.
* If you think you’re irreplaceable, try putting your finger in a bowl of water and observe the hole it leaves when you take it out.
* People go around all of their lives thinking: What should I buy? What should I sell? Wrong questions: When should I buy? When should I sell?
* There is a place in the world for anyone who says, “I’ll take care of it.”
* Failure is no more fatal than success is permanent.
* Anger is only one letter short of danger.
* Ideas without action are worthless.
* We are judged by what we finish, not by what we start.
Mere platitudes? No, these words hold real meaning for me. No doubt you have learned a few lessons too, and I’d love to hear them. I’m always ready to learn something new!
Mackay’s Moral: We are all students of life — pay attention and take notes!