The Basics of Success Are Not Taught in School

By Gary North, 6/6/2017

A site member provided a long testimonial about his success:

Learn, learn, learn. Practice, practice, practice. Over a long, long, long time. Are you prepared to make this sacrifice? There is no other route. Don’t forget this.

This is a reasonable formula for success.

I think these two principles, which boil down to learn and sacrifice, are best taught in an environment of personal mentoring by somebody who has been successful. Probably the best movie I ever saw on this was a teenage flick, The Karate Kid. The trainer, Mr. Miyagi, was the incarnation of self-discipline. He knew what was required for the young man to be successful. The young man had to start out doing grunt work and mastering it. It was not clear what the relationship was between the grunt work of waxing the cars and success in karate. But, later in the movie, we learn the connection.

There are movies about teachers who take a classroom of misfits and turn them into competent kids. Some of them may even be true. But it takes a remarkable teacher to do this. We all know from personal experience that there are not many of these remarkable teachers. It is a Pareto distribution curve.

I think success takes a combination of factors. One of them is basic talent. I have only two of these: the ability to write clearly and the ability to speak clearly. I was also able to persuade people. That is a matter of rhetoric. Nobody taught me how to do this. I learned it on my own initially, and then I continued to do it for over 60 years. I got good at it. But I had the basic skills, which I think were innate. Not everybody has these.

Then there is the question of opportunities. Doors get closed. Windows open. It is not clear why these windows get opened. I had a few of these. I probably had a lot more than I remember. One of the reasons why we ought to keep diaries is to remind ourselves in retrospect of the doors that closed in the windows that opened. It would make us humbler.

I think tenacity is innate. I don’t think it can be taught. Anyway, I don’t know how to teach it. Winston Churchill spoke of tenacity as being crucial. So did Thomas Edison. He called it perspiration, and he made a contrast with inspiration. He was a great believer in perspiration. And yet it is obvious that he was one of the most inspired inventors in the history of man. He brought good ideas to fruition, and he developed a series of procedures that enabled lesser men to do the same.

The combination of innate talent, a mentor who develops this talent in a young person, and a tenacity toward opportunities is unique. It cannot be programmed.

I think tenacity can be developed. Any innate skill can be developed. But it takes tenacity to develop it. It takes a willingness to stick to your knitting.

Of all of the capacities that I would look for in a young person to train, it would be ethics. The ability to distinguish right from wrong is crucial. This can be taught, and it must be taught. Then there is the secondary ability: the ability to move from theory to practice. This used to be called casuistry. It is the ability or part of applying general principles to real-world situations. It takes years of decision-making to develop this skill.

This is why I think the most important single goal that somebody can have is wisdom. The book of Proverbs is devoted to this topic. Wisdom basically is the ability to be a successful casuist. Somebody sees a situation, he understands the fundamental moral principles involved, and that he has the courage to apply the moral principles to his role in the situation. This ability is exceedingly rare. I am a providentialist. I believe that this ability, above all others, is the one that is blessed with success. Success means greater responsibility. It may mean greater money. It may mean greater power. But, above all, it means greater responsibility.

We live in an era in which people do not want responsibility. Every era is marked by this, but ours seems to be afflicted by this burden. People will not step up to the plate. They do not want to be responsible for the outcome of difficult decisions. A person who will not take responsibility is not going to wind up a leader by default. There are people who are irresponsible in terms of their judgment, yet they wind up leaders. They have this in common: they are not afraid of responsibility.

In my book, the classic person in this mold is George W. Bush. He spoke as though he were a fool. He made bad decisions. I don’t think he was stupid. I don’t think anybody gets through Yale University and the Harvard Business School who is stupid. Critics kept saying he was stupid. Not so. He just had bad judgment. He surrounded himself with people who also had bad judgment. They worked as a team.

Hillary Clinton is also such a person. Her husband had bad judgment ethically, but he always got away with it. He charmed his way out of it. He did do this in a society that winks its eye at corruption. That is what our society does. In contrast, Hillary had no charm. She also had no charisma. She was exactly what she appeared to be: an opinionated, screeching, bad-tempered woman with poor judgment, beginning with the bad judgment of marrying Bill Clinton. She never recovered from that. She never recovered from her switch from Goldwater conservatism to Saul Alinksy radicalism. She adopted Saul Alinsky, and she wound up with a man who preferred Monica Lewinsky. Somebody could write a chapter on this: “From Alinsky to Lewinsky.”

Bad ethics pollutes everything a person has of real value. It doesn’t matter what your skills are. It also doesn’t matter what your opportunities are. If you are morally corrupt, you will foul your own nest.

Students don’t learn good ethics in the public schools today. It is illegal to teach good ethics in the public schools today. Immoral people who have formed immoral groups work together to control the public schools in order to reproduce themselves. The good sense and decent ethics of young people do restrict the success of the corrupters in this task, but it is getting worse and worse for young people to survive the system without losing their integrity. It usually begins with the loss of their virginity. Their enemies know this. This is why they created coeducational dorms on university campuses. They know exactly what they’re doing.

Parents can teach good ethics. Anyway, righteous parents can do this. They may not be great mentors. They probably don’t have tremendous teaching skills. They turn their children over early to other specialists who teach them specialized skills. But if the parents know right from wrong, and they teach their children to understand the difference between right and wrong, they can make a major difference in the lives of their children. If the parents don’t get this right, the children will be disasters.

I knew a man in prison when I was involved in a prison ministry. He was regarded by those around him as fearless, and not a man to be tampered with. He was a Christian, but he had been a really bad man. He told me that he had been taught his skills as a criminal by his father. His father was a thief, and he taught the son to be a thief. The son learned his lesson well. That was why he was in a maximum-security prison. From father to son, the moral corruption spread. I think of the Kims of North Korea. What better examples do we have than this trio?

Then we have oddities of history. Consider the father-son duo of Marcus Aurelius and Commodus. The father was known as a philosopher. In all of history, he may have been the best example of a classical philosopher king. He wrote philosophy. He was also a war monger. He was a persecutor of the church. His son was debauched. He had hundreds of concubines, both male and female. But he left the church alone. The church was better off under the corrupt son than the philosopher king father.

There are sons who do not learn the lessons their parents taught them. Parents have complained about that from the beginning. It started with Adam and Eve. But people with bad ethics usually get overturned by the outcomes of their decision-making. If this were not true, we would live in a world almost totally evil. We don’t. Bad decisions eventually undermine the decision-makers. If we believe that this is a cause-and-effect universe, we believe that this is the case. But the modern public school system does not teach such a view of causation.

This is one of the great problems of our age. It is why I think homeschooling is the wave of the future. Parents who want their children to be educated in a moral environment are going to pull their children out of the public schools eventually. This, I believe, is the most important single institutional challenge facing the modern world. We are winning in a lot of areas, but it is slow going in persuading people to pull their kids out of the public schools. The lure of free education is just too great. It is worse than the lure of Social Security and Medicare.

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