Monday, May 29, 2006

A Philosophy In Life

The following is an excerpt taken from Joel Trachtenberg's address given at the commencement exercises of Touro College on May 29th, 2006. It is written from memory, which means it has almost no resemblance to what he actually said - but enjoy it anyway.

"When I was a dean at Boston University, my father called me one day. 'Son, your mother is away this weekend, and I haven't seen you in a while, so how about I come take a train to visit you in Boston?' Even a college dean isn't too busy for a request like that, so I had no way out of it. 'Sure, Poppa, no problem.' That weekend, my dad came up to Boston to visit, and we had a nice time.

On Sunday, he wanted to go out to eat, and I thought that was a fine idea. Before we went, I took a pillowcase and threw a number of shirts into the pillowcase to take to the dry cleaners. We stopped at the dry cleaners on the way, I handed them the pillowcase, and we went on to the restaurant. I saw my father was thinking hard about something, and let him be for a while.

After a while, I said to him, 'Poppa - was this really about having a free weekend, or is there a lot more to this visit? Is something wrong?' 'No, no son - I'm just thinking hard about what you did before.' 'What are you talking about, Poppa?' 'When you handed in your shirts at the dry cleaners, you didn't count them first. How could you not count the shirts?!'

'Ah, but that's my philosophy in life.'

'Your philosophy in life is about shirts!?'

'Think about it: Let's say I count the shirts before I give them in. First of all, then I have to count them again on the way out - otherwise, there was no point in counting them on the way in. Then, there's only 3 options: Either there are the same number of shirts; more shirts; or less shirts than I had originally.

If it's the same amount of shirts, then what did I accomplish? I'd justed counted my shirts twice: For nothing.

If there are more shirts than there were originally, it's a bigger pain. Let's say I handed in 10 shirts, and now there are 11. I have to go through all 11 shirts to figure out which one is not mine, upon which I then have to give that shirt back to the dry cleaners, and I've gained absolutely nothing. Who needs that?

Finally, let's say I gave in 10 shirts, and I only get back 9. Now what? I am required to say something to the man behind the counter, because otherwise, what was the point in counting the shirts in the first place?! So I say something to the man behind the counter, with whom I've had a good relationship for years, and what happens?

First of all, suddenly, he doesn't understand a word of English. Second, he gives me an angry look, and points me to a sign on the wall:
The dry cleaners assumes NO responsibility for LOST or DAMAGED clothing.
Or, he might point to another sign indicating store policy on lost shirts, saying that they pay $20 to replace lost shirts. But of course, $20 doesn't do anything for you. This shirt was the $40 Brooks Brothers shirt you bought last year. Now, even if you take the $20, you're ticked off because you know you just got swindled out of half the price of your shirt.

Either way, you can no longer go back to that dry cleaners. So from now on, you have to walk many extra blocks out of your way to another dry cleaners that's not nearly as good as your original one, and for what? A shirt?!

How many shirts are you really going to lose in a lifetime, anyway? Maybe ten? Ten shirts at $40 each comes out to $400. That $400 amortized over a lifetime comes out to... well, over a lifetime, it doesn't add up to all that much per year.

That's why I don't count my shirts.'

My father thought about this for a while, and finally responded:
'It's nice to have a rich Poppa, isn't it?'"


  1. Actually, Ezzie, that is a fabulous philosophy. We would all be so much more relaxed in life with that attitude. On the could be walking around shirtless, so, who knows! I vote for: it's nice to have a rich Poppa!

  2. CM - I know it is. I loved it so much because it's somewhat the philosophy I follow (even without the rich Poppa) - I've found it much more advantageous to not get stressed over things beyond my control, and focus on improving how I myself do things. It's a much happier, successful life.

    It explains my favorite quote as well. Check back to August I believe it is in these archives, and there's a post called "Change the World". Best quote :)

  3. that is a good philosophy! and i'm with you on not getting stressed over the small things or anything out of our control. it's just not worth the time and energy that can be put into other more useful actions! 'don't sweat the small stuff' is the saying that comes to mind.

  4. Hey what a great site keep up the work its excellent.