What Is Character?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Worry about your character, not your reputation. Reputation is what people think of you. Character is who you are.

—John Wooden, legendary coach of basketball and character

Everyone admits that President Trump cares more about his character than about his reputation. Only a man concerned with his character would tell the truth.

Reputation is what people think of you. Character is who you are.

The Stoics teach us that reputation is beyond our control. Trump understands this. Mitt Romney does not.

What things are not under your total control? Your body, property, reputation, status, Because they are not under your total control they are weak, slavish, subject to restraint, and in the power of others. They do not concern you because they are outside your control.

—Epitetus, The Good Life Handbook, translation by Dr. Chuck Chakrapani

I get it. Young Republicans are trained to say “Yes’m” to any charge of racism. Like cowards. Or something that starts with “p” and rhymes with cat. Or something. Use your imagination.

Republicans worry about their reputations. Never their character.

Republicans live for the praise of the fickle world, not their true nature.

Republicans crave what they cannot have. They cannot control their reputations.

It takes courage to speak the truth.

It takes courage to speak the truth when your culture craves lies. When the culture wants its narrative reinforced. When the culture’s narrative is a lie, the culture demands confirmation.

And a culture in need of reinforcement punishes truth.

Donald Trump told the truth about Charlottesville. Trump spoke truth in every sentence and every syllable. But cowardly Republicans like Mitt Romney seek to control what others think about them by denying the truth Trump spoke.

What did Trump say that was true?

  • Racism is reprehensible
  • Nazis are horrible
  • Violence to suppress opposing views is criminal
  • Terrorists on the right and terrorists on the left clashed in Charlottesville
  • All terrorism is reprehensible

All true. 100% true. Undeniably true.

Never did President Trump defend racists or Nazis.

Never did President Trump justify their violence.

If you believed the lying headlines on HuffPo, Politico, Business Insider, and Vox, I urge you to feed your character by reading or hearing what the president actually said. Think for yourself. Like a grownup. Don’t skim the headlines like Mitt Romney. Don’t rhyme with cat.

The great family man Romney literally praised Antifa terrorists. To bolster his reputation. His reputation among people who called him a racist and a fascist in 2012 and consider him a fascist today.

Romney tweeted in praise of Antifa terrorists, justifying their violence because, in Mitt’s view, Antifa opposes racism.

No, not the same. One side is racist, bigoted, Nazi. The other opposes racism and bigotry. Morally different universes.

Really, Mitt? You’d be beaten to death and burned in a trash barrel if your Gucci loafers accidentally carried you and your Orvis gingham blazer into an Antifa riot. But, whatever, tough guy. You Mormon gansta you.

Character is who you are, not what people think of you.

Character is telling the truth, not to power, but to the pansies who want to hear lies that make them feel good about themselves. They’re everywhere.

Character is Charles Bukowski, not Mitt Romney. Per Mark Manson in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***:

See, despite the book sales and the fame, Bukowski was a loser. He knew it. And his success stemmed not from some determination to be a winner, but from the fact that he knew he was a loser, accepted it, and then wrote honestly about it. He never tried to be anything other than what he was.*

. . .

Bukowski didn’t give a fuck about success. Even after his fame, he still showed up to poetry readings hammered and verbally abused people in his audience. He still exposed himself in public and tried to sleep with every woman he could find. Fame and success didn’t make him a better person. Nor was it by becoming a better person that he became famous and successful.

Yet Charles Bukowski was a far better man than Mitt Romney. Because Bukowski was true. True to his character. Honest.

Bukowski cared more about his character than his reputation.

He could control his character. Not his reputation.

Romney doesn’t swear or drink or womanize. He just lies and cowers. And praises the terrorists he’s afraid of.

I realize I’m putting my reputation at risk by writing this truth. Americans hate the truth. And punish truth-tellers. But I’d rather die scared with honest men of character like Bukowski than live in smug shame with grinds like Mitt Romney.

Which rhymes with cat.

*Emphasis added.

What Was Good About Charlottesville

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Charlottesville used to be a place. Now, it’s a thing.

On Friday, Charlottesville was a city in Virginia.

Today, Charlottesville is an event. A thing.

In our hyper-emotional world of 2017, we are told to explore our emotions. Then act upon those emotions. Like poorly trained animals. Like half-wits. Like narcissists and spoiled brats. Like lower primates.

Like the KKK and BLM and Antifa thugs who turned that place into a thing yesterday.

That’s one way to behave. A way to behave that will lead to more places become worse things.

That’s not the only way to behave. There’s another way.

A Stoic’s View of Charlottesville

Let’s see what Marcus Aurelius tells us about events like Charlottesville:

When you think you’ve been injured, apply this rule: If the community isn’t injured by it, neither am I. And if it is, anger is not the answer. Show the offender where he went wrong.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations (greatest translation ever by Gregory Hays)

Aurelius gives us three things:

  1. Has the community been injured?
  2. If no, then you have not been injured. So get over yourself.
  3. If yes, then put aside anger and show the offender where they went wrong.

It looks like this:

If you’re a Christian, you might recognize this formula. It sounds like something Jesus said. And Paul. And Peter. And, if you’re old enough, your mother. And teachers.

This Stoic formula is tough medicine for 21st century Americans. We’ve been fed narcissism for decades. We are told to express our emotions wantonly. Especially negative emotions. Like anger. Like hatred. Like vengeance.

That “do what you feel” advice was wrong. Dead wrong.

The advice we’ve gotten since the 1970s was wrong. Like the diet advice we’ve gotten was wrong.

The Ku Klux Klan, Black Lives Matter, and Antifa are all victims of the “do what you feel” nonsense we’ve been taught since the 1970s. They’re all guilty of following bad advice, but they got a truckload of bad advice.

And, like all bad advice, bad behavioral advice ends in death.

Yesterday, three people died. Died because other people did what they felt. Died because other people followed bad advice. Bad advice that told them “do what you feel.”

For the record, the community was injured yesterday. So we should be angry, right?


Marcus Aurelius isn’t like modern therapists and politicians. Marcus doesn’t give us the easy out. He doesn’t tell us to act on our anger.

In fact, Marcus Aurelius tells us “anger is not the answer.”

(Actually, Marcus never told “us” anything. He was writing to himself in a journal. When Marcus wrote “you,” he meant “me.”)

When the community is injured, we have a duty. A duty to lead. To lead, not just by example, but also by instruction.

We have a duty to “inform the offender where he went wrong.” Which is the purpose of this post. To inform the offenders where they went wrong. All of the them.

Who Are the Offenders?

I see four classes of offenders in Charlottesville. Two direct offenders and two instigators.

Direct Offenders:

  • The white supremacists who went looking for trouble
  • The counter-protesters who went looking for trouble


  • The politicians who took sides with one group of miscreants or the other
  • The many therapists, writers, politicians, teachers, and parents who taught generations of children to treat their animal urges like commands from God

To the direct offenders, you went wrong by losing sight of your goal. You lost sight of, as John Braddock calls it, your End Game. Every organization represented on the battlefield of Charlottesville is worse off than it was before. You fought a negative-sum game, a war of attrition. The longer the fight goes on, the more both sides lose. From A Spy’s Guide to Thinking by John Braddock:

Negative-sum games are rare. They’re wars of attrition. Verdun. Or a labor strike. Both sides are losing. Each side hopes it’s losing less than the other. As soon as one side figures it’s losing too much, the negative-sum game is over. Negative-sum games are like heavy elements that live for a short time before decaying into something else.

When you recognize that you’re in a negative-sum game, John Braddock’s advice is simple: get out.

Where They Went Wrong

If you identify with the KKK, Skinheads, or some other faction of white-power primates, you are in a war of attrition and you are losing. So is everyone around you. You’ll never reach your end-game fighting wars of attrition. You get farther away from that end game with every battle.

If you identify with Black Lives Matter, you’re fighting a losing war of attrition. A war both sides lose. A war that takes you farther away from that end game. You probably feel worse every day instead of better. That’s a sign. Pay attention to it.

If you identify with Antifa, you’re fighting a losing war of attrition. A war you will lose, little by little, until you and your imagined enemies are destroyed. You probably want something more than mutual assured destruction. But that’s the war you’re fighting. Mutual assured destruction.

If you identify with none of those groups (as I hope), don’t get all high an mighty just yet. You are not free and clear.

Where the Rest of Us Fail: Shirking Duty

If you’re a peace-loving center-right person, you might feel angry at President Trump for not choosing sides. (Actually, Trump did choose sides; he sided with law and order, peace and love. Maybe your anger blinded you?) Or you might feel angry at the press. Or at the BLM and Antifa thugs. Or at Republican Senators who want President Trump to side with BLM and Antifa. (I’m looking at you, Marco Rubio.)

If you’re a peace-loving, center-left person, you might feel angry at President Trump for not choosing sides. Or you might feel angry at the white supremacists for fighting a war of attrition. Or you might feel angry at the police for not taking sides by shooting all those KKK people. (I’m looking at you, Jake Tapper.)

Marcus Aurelius tells us “get over yourself.” Do your duty.

For those instigators of yesterday’s war of attrition in Charlottesville: stop giving advice. Your advice is very bad. The worst advice. Instead, accept the possibility that you might be wrong. Read The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***. Then re-read this blog post. Then follow the obvious course of action, even it’s difficult. Especially if it’s difficult.

Every moment you’re feeling angry, you’re shirking your duty. You’re damaging your community. You are taking sides with the belligerents of Charlottesville. You’re moving farther away from that end game of yours.

How to Reach Your End Game

Here’s the three-step process you can use to get right with nature, right with God, and right with your community:

  1. Get a clear picture of your end game. What will the world be like when you arrive there? Who will be there with you? What things will you have with you?
  2. Pick the allies you will need to achieve your end game. Who can you work with? Who must you work with? Who do you want to be like?
  3. Examine that flow chart and apply it. There is no “surrender to your anger” box. There are only two possible end states: “you have not been injured” and “show the offender where he went wrong.” Those are your only courses of action if you want to move closer to your end game. If you want to do your duty.

If you can’t stand the idea of being alone with your own thoughts, read John Braddock’s outstanding books. They will help you think strategically instead of acting out your emotions.

Have a blessed, peaceful day.

P.S. Oh, almost forgot. What was good about Charlottesville? It gave us this chance to improve ourselves. At least, that’s what I got out of it. It was painful, and pain is a signal for action. Wise action. Action that helps.

How to Ignore the News

Reading Time: 2 minutes

“Will Trump survive this?”

A friend of mine texted me yesterday. I had no idea what the “this” was. Later, I learned.

Turns out, like most of the media’s breathless revelations about Trump’s supposed crimes, the story that people reacted to meant little. The anti-Trump media exploded with fake news, fake interpretations of real news, and speculation that supported their own angry fetishes.

But any reasonable person would respond like my friend. I did, too. For a moment.

Then I thought about it. I applied simple Stoic thinking:

  • What is under my control?
    • My own thoughts, opinions, desires, aversions, and actions. Nothing else.
  • How do I choose to react?
    • By having a beer and watching a television show with my wife.

I can’t control what Jake Tapper does. What people say and think is not in my control. So I adopted an attitude of uncurious disdain for those things. I chose to emotionally ignore them. The way I might ignore a spider I see through a window.

Later, I found a problem at work that I could help solve. So I took the first steps toward solving it. Or trying to. I did what I could at the moment. I wrote down some notes in my Commitment notebook. Then, I went to bed.

Today, I noticed several reports pointing out that all of yesterday’s breathless reports about a grand jury were really non-news. Special counsels use grand juries all the time, the way doctors use stethoscopes and plumbers use PVC pipe. If a special counsel didn’t use a grand jury, he wouldn’t be doing his job. A grand jury authorizes just about everything a special counsel does. It’s a formality to hold those lawyers in check.


Non-news the anti-Trump media treated like a supervolcano eruption that wiped out half the population of North America. Because the anti-Trump media choose not to control the things they can control: their own thoughts, opinions, desires, aversions, and actions. They chose to go berserk on the air like a spoiled kid in the toy department at Target.

You don’t have to avoid the news to live free. It helps merely to remember what’s in your control and what is not in your control.

I can’t control the media. And they can’t control me. Unless I let them. The way the media let Trump manipulate their minds.

Free Forever Through Stoicism

Reading Time: 2 minutes

“Some things we can control, some we can’t. We can control our attitudes, opinions, goals and desires – choices of our own. We can’t control health, wealth, fame or power – things we can’t have by choosing them.” —Epictetus

Freedom begins with understanding what we control and we do not. Yet very few people even begin to consider this essential dichotomy.

Even in the complete absence of “administration” as Tocqueville observed in early 19th century America, no one was free who failed to understand Epictetus’s control dichotomy: some things are under our control, some are not.

Conversely, Viktor Frankl never lost his essential freedom even when a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps. He never lost his freedom to choose his response. Frankl, and most of the survivors, clearly understood what was in their control and what was not.

Likewise, Admiral James Stockdale understood the dichotomy. He credits Stoicism with helping him survive seven and a half years in Hanoi Hilton. As he drifted to earth after ejecting from his jet, he said to himself, “I am leaving the modern world for Epictetus’s world.”

My dogs are upset.

Some neighbor had the temerity to walk down the street. The dogs don’t like that. My dogs haven’t come to grips with the things they can and cannot control. They want the world to work one way. It works another way before their eyes. So they yell at it.

How different are we from dogs?

Look at me. Page through this blog. How many times every week do I yell at the world for being different than the way I wish it to be?

Yesterday, I wrote a LinkedIn article on the subject of stoic persuasion. It asserts that understanding this dichotomy is the basis of influencing others. We cannot influence people when we’re trying to control them. The less we seek control over others, the more likely they are to follow.

It’s a paradox within a dichotomy.

You might not agree with Epictetus and me. You might have a formula for ethically controlling other people to do your bidding. You might have a super power that lets you control others’ minds and manipulate their wills.

It took me a while, but I finally realized have no such power. I cannot control those things that are not in my control.

And the only things in my control are my actions, my beliefs, my likes and dislikes.

One of those beliefs is that influence begins with understanding what we control and what we don’t.

So I’m going to try to practice that belief. Practice my belief so I can stop being a hypocrite. Maybe this is the path to true freedom.

I’m also adding a new category: Stoicism. More to follow, Deo volente.

Greitens breathes life into our first principles

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I am Catholic.

I believe in and trust the magisterium of the church.

Nothing distinguishes me from Protestants more profoundly than that concept: the magisterium, or the teaching authority, of the church.

For me, the church is like Locke and Jefferson and Madison. They were learned men who read Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Seneca, Cato, Epictetus, Epicurus, and other Greek and Roman philosophers, often in the original languages.

Those philosophical and political founders interpreted and organized ancient philosophy for England and America. Just as the church in Rome interprets and organizes scripture.

Jefferson never expected the masses to share his education. So he assimilated great thinkers for his contemporaries and for us. Jefferson and the founders did for political philosophy what Rome does for Catholics.

By “first principles,” I mean the raw material of philosophical thought. Elon Musk reinvented the battery by ignoring modern, interpreted batteries and returning to the origins of stored electricity. Tesla is a battery company that also makes cars. And only by returning to first principles of electricity storage could Musk have made the car that defines the breed. Analogy wasn’t enough.

I thought of this while listening to Eric Greitens open his new campaign office in Crestwood tonight. Along with 237 dedicated people who braved a pop-up snowstorm the day after the Super Bowl, I was amazed at this man’s ability to inspire and lead so many different people.

The crowd was way more diverse than any Tea Party crowd I remember. And much younger on average. So many veterans and first responders.

Yet I met at least seven people who became active in politics because of the Tea Party. One man, now a member of the Lindbergh School District board remembered the Kenneth Gladney smackdown event where he heard me speak for the first time.

I can’t speak for the others, but what draws me to Greitens is his first principles approach to governance.

Greitens reads all the same philosophers Jefferson and Locke read. And he reaches remarkably consistent conclusions about the proper relationship of the person to the state.

But unlike the vast majority of conservatives who rely on Lockean and Jeffersonian interpretations of philosophy, Greitens went straight to the source. Reading Eric’s masterpiece, Resilience, which somewhat mimics Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic, I realized that America’s founders were not so much political philosophers as philosophical executives. America breathed life into stoicism.

Maybe Greitens can recite Jefferson and Locke. Maybe he can’t. I don’t know. But he can recite the philosophers that Jefferson and Locke relied upon to craft what we call naively our first principles. And Greitens is able to drop the weight of 18th century language and situations to make stoicism fresh in the 21st century.

As a Catholic, I’m fine with Jefferson’s interpretation, but I appreciate having a modern interpreter, too. I’m a little surprised that some of my friends, many of whom were not raised Catholic, believe we need an 18th century interpreter to filter our first principles for us.

I believe that Eric Greitens is the perfect soldier in our never-ending war against corrupt, coercive government. And I genuflect at his willingness to mimic our founders by putting his life on hold to breathe new life into the first principles of self governance and the good life.