Adam Carolla has a new video for Prager University about the amazing human capacity for change based upon introspection and self-reflection. Here’s the video, which I’ll follow with some comments, plus a post I wrote before the September 2010 midterm elections about my own changes:
People who know me know that I read, and read, and read. Kids often ask me “What’s your favorite book?” or “What’s the most important book you ever read?” Most expect me to name some weighty tome about history or culture, or some novel that gripped me at a profound emotional level. I’ve certainly read such books, but they’re not the most important books I’ve ever read. Believe it or not, the most important book I’ve ever read is Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People.
I picked Carnegie’s book off my high school library’s shelf when I was fifteen — a very awkward, unattractive fifteen-year-old, who compensated for social inferiority with a cutting wit that, while sophisticated and often funny, saw people (especially boys) backing away from me as fast as possible. How to Win Friends and Influence People was the first intimation I had that, by changing myself, I could change how people respond to me. I didn’t become nicer overnight, but I made the decision then and there that I was a work in progress and that I had a lifetime responsibility to improve myself.
The following is a reprint of a post that I wrote in response to the glee on the Left when they unearthed Senate candidate’s Christine O’Donnell’s youthful, and long-since abandoned, flirtation with witchcraft, charts my trajectory from Progressive to Conservative, and nasty to nice (or, at least, nicer):
I know this will come as a surprise to all of you, but I was not born wise or well informed. I blush to think of some of the behaviors in which I indulged, and the ideas that I held, when I was younger.
When I was a very little girl, I picked up from the secular people surrounding me the idea that there is no God. Not only did I refuse to say the Pledge of Allegiance, although I was scared enough of the teacher that I still moved my lips, I also thought all believers were fools. I held to this belief for many, many years.
After reading Gone With The Wind for the first time, when I was 11, I came away with the impression that slavery wasn’t really such a bad thing, as long as you treated your slaves nicely. It took me a while to shake this belief too, especially because it seemed to me that the way many American blacks lived, whether in San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters’ Point, LA’s Watts and South Central, or Michigan’s Detroit, wasn’t a great improvement over the life of a slave. The concept of freedom versus mere material welfare eluded me.
At around the same time, as a child who grew up watching the Vietnam War on the news, as well as all the antiwar protests, I thought the American military was evil, and that Communists weren’t so bad.
When I was 17, and California voters passed Prop. 13, I thought it was outrageous that people should want to keep their own money when it could go to the government, which would spend it for the people’s own good, only it would do it better than the people themselves.
When I was 18, I voted for Jimmy Carter and was deeply saddened when he lost.
When I was a 20-year old student attending U.C. Berkeley, and I heard that Ronald Reagan had been shot, I agreed with my fellow students that he deserved it, a sentiment that earned me a harsh and well-deserved scolding from my parents.
When I was 21 and living in England, I wore a keffiyeh, because it was a cool fashion statement. That same year, I listened in silence as a British Arab man told a terrible and cruel holocaust joke, because I was too socially intimidated to speak up.
When I returned to America in the early 1980s, I was fascinated by MTV, and watched it obsessively, believing that somehow those videos, with their rocking beats and alternatively meaningless or crude images, could enrich my life.
Throughout my teens and 20s, I hated Christian proselytizers, because I thought they wanted to hurt me, a Jew. It took me decades to understand that they were acting out of great spiritual generosity, and that they would respond immediately and respectfully to a politely given “no.”
Also throughout my teens and twenties, I was mean. I was an awkward, geeky bookworm, with a quick wit that I used to great effect to hurt people before they could hurt me. I always had friends, but woe betide anyone who fell on the cutting side of my tongue. A physical and moral coward, I nevertheless believed that, when it came to insults, the best defense was a good offense.
I was young and I was stupid, stupid, stupid. I cringe when I look back at the things I did and thought. What’s really sad is that the only thing that stopped me from making even worse mistakes was my cowardice. I didn’t really live life. I observed it from the sidelines, and simply managed to collect a whole bunch of bad ideas as I went along.
The good news is that I grew up. During those same years, I managed to learn a lot. At Berkeley, because I couldn’t understand the Marxist cant that permeated every non-science class, and therefore ignored it, I managed to learn about history and art and literature. At law school, I learned how to revere the Constitution, respect the law and, significantly, analyze data.
Being a lawyer was also a great gift. It exposed me to activist judges, something that taught me that, without a reliable rule of law, businesses crumble and anarchy arises. It was frustrating to know that, if I was representing a bank or business in a San Francisco court against an individual, the bank or business would always lose, no matter how rigorously it followed the law, while the individual would always win, no matter how sleazy or careless. The same held true in employer/employee cases. I understood that judicial activism increased the cost of doing business, drove businesses out of the Bay Area (and California), and made it virtually impossible for business people to have reliable predictors to control their conduct.
Earning and spending money taught me that capitalism, if properly policed (not controlled, just policed) enriches people, rather than impoverishes or enslaves them. Living as a responsible adult (rather than a child at home or a cocooned student) taught me that government, even with the best will in the world, is an inefficient engine that moves slowly and that inevitably crushes individuality. I realized that I prefer to keep power diffuse, amongst myriad people with different ideas about the world, rather than aggregated in one, all-powerful being, whether that being is a person or an ostensibly republican government. This made me a strong anti-Communist and, indeed, an anti anything totalitarian.
I learned that the old saying was right, and that I could truly catch more flies with honey (especially true honey, not false words of flattery), than I could with vinegar. I came to regret very deeply the verbal hurts I had inflicted on people. You will seldom catch me being mean, in act or word. (Although I admit to slipping when the migraines hit or the kids fight.)
I found it impossible to cling to my prejudices about God and religious people. The more I learned about science, the more I asked myself, “How did it begin?” I accept the scientific record and scientific conclusions all the way back to the Big Bang — but what came before? Could all this something truly have come from nothing? I don’t know that there is a God, but I’d be an arrogant fool, faced with those questions, to deny a God. I’m not a believer, but I try to live a moral life as an open-minded non-believer. I respect believers.
As for Christianity, I learned that people can hold beliefs different from mine, and still be truly, deeply good people, whom it is often an honor to know. My history studies helped me to understand that the Inquisition is over and that, for the past two hundred years, Christianity has been a uniform force for good in the world. There are, of course, bad people who profess to be Christians, but Christianity as a belief system is a good thing and we should be grateful for it. (I also learned, which few Jews accept, that the Nazis were not a Christian movement, but were a violently anti-Christian movement, something that helped me open my heart and mind to Christianity.)
Watching our military during the First Gulf war, and meeting military people as I got older, I began to understand that ours is an exceptional military: a volunteer organization, controlled by the Constitution, and peopled by ordinary Americans. Well, “ordinary” in that they’re neither the dregs, nor the aristocrats, as is the case in other, class-based societies. Instead, they’re people like you and me. Except, unlike me, they’re brave, even the ones who just joined to pay off their student loans. Oh, and they’re patriots, which isn’t that common. And of course, they’re awfully polite and frequently so kind. But other than that….
So here I am: someone who was profoundly stupid as a child and young person, but who had the capacity to learn and who did, in fact, learn and grow.