Paul Batura: 10 pieces of wisdom from 2019

Mankind’s search for wisdom undoubtedly dates back to the beginning of time. From the ancient philosophers to modern-day “experts” dishing out practical advice on everything from money to sex, there’s never been a shortage of people willing to share their opinions with those willing to listen.

For the last few years, I’ve been keeping small black notebooks full of what I consider to be wise, interesting and insightful observations. I cull them from books, articles, obituaries, podcasts, sermons and even conversations I have with strangers on planes, meetings at the office or talking with friends and neighbors.

Since I started this habit, I’ve been fascinated by just how many pearls of wisdom I encounter – and how there’s no way I’d remember even half if I didn’t write it down.

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So, as the curtain falls on 2019 – a remarkable and unprecedented year in so many ways — I decided to look back and review some of the more memorable takeaways from a variety of sources these last 12 months.

Start your day with this simple prayer: “Lord, I’m available. What do you want me to do?”

Believe it or not, this counsel came from the comedian Bill Murray. The legendary star of “Caddyshack” said he heard it from a priest in a homily and has tried to implement the practice each morning.

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Murray says you need to make yourself available to life. Indeed, being willing is the first step to being helpful.

You can do a lot with just a little.

Thomas Edison, who invented hundreds of things, including the light bulb and the phonograph, was deaf in one ear and half-deaf in the other.

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Never underestimate what you can accomplish in spite of your weaknesses.

Don’t be afraid to follow your gut instead of following directions.

George Laurer, who died earlier this month and was credited with designing the Universal Product Bar Code back in the 1970s, did so only because he defied his boss’ instructions to use circular symbols resembling dart boards. He realized following his supervisor’s advice was a fool’s errand because smears of ink left by the printing presses scrambled the code.

Intuition isn’t failsafe, but going against your instincts is often unproductive.

Hire for three things: integrity, intelligence and energy.

Warren Buffett, known as the “Oracle of Omaha” for his keen investing prowess, says if the person doesn’t have the first (integrity) but has the second (intelligence) and the third thing (energy), they will kill your business because they’ll rob you blind. Buffett says he’d much rather hire a lazy and dumb person with no ethics than a bright and ambitious con artist. It’s the wise person who commits to cultivating these three characteristics in his or her life.

Concentrate on your sweet spot.

The late Ted Williams, who was the last major leaguer to bat .400 in a season, was famous for not only waiting for pitches in the strike zone – but waiting to swing at pitches in certain spots within it.

Learn to say no. What are you really good at? What do you love? Concentrate on developing those areas of your giftedness.

The most important things in life are the things you can’t see.

As proprietor of the Andover Shop in Harvard Square since 1953, clothier Charlie Davidson, who died Dec. 2 at age 94, was once asked to name the most important aspect of fashion.

“The lining of your coat is the most important thing,” he answered. “It’s style, not fashion.”

We tend to stress the superficial (looks, money), when it’s the substantial, though often hidden (like character) that is the most important.

 Everyone has a story.

In a new book on Disneyland by Richard Snow, the author points out that Walt Disney’s greatest strength was recognizing that everybody has a story. This is why Disney properties don’t have “carnival rides” – each one tells a story, i.e. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, It’s a Small World, etc.

My mother used to say everybody is interesting if you’re willing to be interested in their life.

Don’t scoff at “small” sin.

Popular culture tends to wink at seemingly small infractions as inevitable human imperfections. It’s true we all make mistakes, but as the late pastor Dr. Adrian Rogers said, “Secret faults cause moral earthquakes.”

From pornography to drugs and financial infidelity, beware the consequences of private vices.

Wise people know to separate the temporal from the eternal.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas recently told students he keeps a copy of a letter written by St. Francis of Assisi in which he implored “rulers of people” to “Keep a clear eye toward life’s end. Do not forget your purpose and destiny as God’s creature.”

Begin things with the end in mind and take steps to achieve the vision.

Remember life is brief. Savor every moment.

During last summer’s family vacation to Maine, our middle son somehow managed to jam the locks of our rental car. With the rain coming down in buckets after dinner, I was frustrated as I fiddled with the doors in the restaurant parking lot. The fix turned out to be relatively simple and we returned to our cabin on Rangeley Lake, just in time for the sunset.

As the rain stopped and the clearing sky turned majestic, the pettiness of the lock problem became apparent. Looking back, the picture I snapped of our three boys out on the dock reminded me of Dr. Seuss’s sage observation, “Sometimes you don’t know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”

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Somebody once said that wisdom is knowing what to do when the rules of life don’t apply. I like that definition. I think it points to why no matter our age or stage, we desperately need wise counsel.

In the end, the best wisdom is timeless and not connected to the fads of changing cultural norms – a truism reinforced by the English writer C.S. Lewis who aptly observed, “All that is not eternal is eternally out of date.”

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