Right thing, right now Justice in an unjust world

Ryan Holiday

Book - 2024

"In his New York Times bestselling book, Discipline Is Destiny, Ryan Holiday made the Stoic case for a life of self-discipline. In this much-anticipated third installment in the Stoic Virtues series, he argues for the necessity of doing what's right - even when it isn't easy For the ancients, everything worth pursuing in life flowed from a strong sense of justice-or one's commitment to doing the right thing, no matter how difficult. In order to be courageous, wise, and self-disciplined, one must begin with justice. The influence of the modern world often tells us that acting justly is optional. Holiday argues that that's simply untrue-and the fact that so few people today have the strength to stand by their convicti...ons explains much about why we're so unhappy. In Right Thing. Right Now., Holiday draws on fascinating stories of historical figures such as Marcus Aurelius, Florence Nightingale, Jimmy Carter, Gandhi, and Frederick Douglass, whose examples of kindness, honesty, integrity, and loyalty we can emulate as pillars of upright living. Through the lives of these role models, readers learn the transformational power of living by a moral code and, through the cautionary tales of unjust leaders, the consequences of an ill-formed conscience. The Stoics never claimed that living justly was easy, only that it was necessary. And that the alternative-sacrificing our principles for something lesser-was considered only by cowards and fools. Right Thing. Right Now. is a powerful antidote to the moral failures of our modern age, and a manual for living virtuously"--

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2nd Floor New Shelf 179.9/Holiday (NEW SHELF) Due Jul 31, 2024
New York : Portfolio/Penguin [2024]
Main Author
Ryan Holiday (author)
Physical Description
xxiv, 338 pages ; 19 cm
  • The Four Virtues
  • Introduction
  • Part I. The Me (Personal)
  • To Stand Before Kings …
  • Keep Your Word
  • Tell the Truth
  • Take Responsibility
  • Be Your Own Referee
  • Good, Not Great
  • Be an Open Book
  • Be Decent
  • Do Your Job
  • Keep Your Hands Clean
  • Integrity Is Everything
  • Realize Your Potential
  • Be Loyal
  • Choose a North Star
  • Right Thing, Right Now
  • Part II. The We (Sociopolitical)
  • To You From Failing Hands We Throw the Torch …
  • You Just Have to Be Kind
  • See How the Other Half Lives
  • You Have to Help
  • Start Small
  • Create Alliances
  • Become Powerful
  • Practice Pragmatism
  • Develop Competence
  • Give, Give, Give
  • Grow a Coaching Tree
  • Look Out for the Little Guy
  • Make Good Trouble
  • Just Keep Going Back
  • Something Bigger Than Us …
  • Part III. The All (Is One)
  • To So Love the World …
  • Climb Your Second Mountain
  • Stop Asking for the Third Thing
  • Give Them Hope
  • Be an Angel
  • Forgive
  • Make Amends
  • The Great Oneness
  • Expand the Circle
  • Find the Good in Everyone
  • Give the Full Measure of Devotion
  • Love Wins
  • Pay It Forward
  • Afterword
  • Acknowledgments
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Handy tips toward more upstanding social behavior, informed by Stoicism and history. Holiday has developed a cottage industry popularizing Stoicism via a newsletter, store, and books like this, the latest in a series on "Stoic virtues." Here, the author focuses on justice, with chapters stressing the importance and merits of old-fashioned verities like honesty, forgiveness, social engagement, and more. All respectable ideas, and Holiday has mastered a tone to deliver them that's firm but compassionate, somewhere between New Age concepts and Jordan Peterson--esque moral scolding. Still, for a book purportedly rooted in the teachings of the ancients, Holiday gives surprisingly little attention to Stoic standard-bearers like Cato the Younger, Marcus Aurelius, and Epictetus. Instead, many of his examples come from the annals of the Greatest Generation, particularly President Harry S. Truman, who is presented as an underrated, rock-ribbed ethical figure. (To bolster the point, the author notes Truman's deep admiration of Aurelius.) The parade of mid-20th-century eminences--Martha Graham, Gandhi, Clarence Darrow, Rosa Parks, Albert Schweitzer--is relevant, though it has the curious effect of making all of this justice seeking feel distant from the present moment. Stray examples of contemporary ethical leaders like NBA coach Gregg Popovich or former German chancellor Angela Merkel are exceptions that prove the rule. More interesting in some ways than Holiday's delivery of unimpeachable examples of good behavior is an afterword about how he has managed hiccups in his business in terms of ethical sourcing, co-workers' bad behavior, and readers resenting his engagement in politics: "It's a test we face in a world driven by algorithms--do we tell people what they want to hear? Or do we say and do what we think needs to be done?" Fresher examples might better sell the philosophy as fit for the current moment. Time-honored advice, if not always timely. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

To Stand Before Kings It was perhaps the most precarious moment in the history of the world. A beloved president lay in state. A war raged on two fronts. In Europe, the killing continued and the death camps kept firing their awful furnaces and gas chambers. In the Pacific, the long campaign to take island after island ground on, bringing closer each day a dreaded invasion that would dwarf the landing at Normandy. A ghastly nuclear age-still shrouded in secrecy-had just begun. A racial reckoning, hundreds of years delayed, could not be avoided. The storm clouds of a cold war between great, victorious powers loomed on the horizon. There, as millions of lives hung in the balance, as uncertain, difficult times beckoned, a man was to meet his moment. Who had the gods sent? What had destiny produced for this crucible? A small-town Missouri farmer. A short man with glasses so thick and concave they made his eyes bulge. A failed clothing store owner who didn't graduate from college. A former senator from one of the most corrupt states in the country, who had entered politics having failed at nearly everything he'd done in his life. A vice presidential pick that the now-deceased Franklin Roosevelt had barely bothered to brief for the job. The moment met the man: Harry S. Truman. The shock of it soon gave way to dread, not just to the people of the United States and the armies abroad, but in Truman himself. "I don't know if you fellas ever had a load of hay fall on you," Roosevelt's successor would tell the press, "but when they told me what happened yesterday, I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me." And when Truman asked if he could do anything for the former first lady, Roosevelt's grieving widow shook her head somberly and said, "Is there anything we can do for you? For you're the one in trouble now." Yet not all despaired. "Oh, I felt good," one of the most powerful and experienced men in Washington would reflect, "because I knew him. I knew what kind of man he was." Indeed, the people who actually knew Truman were not concerned at all, because, as a Missouri railroad foreman who'd met the future president when the boy was supporting his mother on $35 a month said, he was "all right from his asshole out in every direction." And so began what we might call an incredible experiment, in which a seemingly ordinary person was thrust not just into the limelight but into a position of nearly superhuman responsibility. Could an average person succeed at such a monumental task? Could they not only keep their character intact but prove that character actually counted for something in this crazy modern world? The answer for Harry Truman was yes. Absolutely yes. But this experiment did not begin in Washington. Nor in 1945. It began many years earlier with the simple study of virtue, and the example of a man we have already studied in this series. "His real name was Marcus Aurelius Antoninus," Truman would later recount, "and he was one of the great ones." We don't know who introduced Truman to Marcus, but we know what Marcus introduced to Truman. "What he wrote in his Meditations," Truman explained of the worldview he borrowed from the emperor, was "that the four greatest virtues are moderation, wisdom, justice, and fortitude, and if a man is able to cultivate those, that's all he needs to live a happy and successful life." It would be with this philosophy, and the teachings of his parents, that Truman built a kind of personal code of conduct. One that he lived by unfailingly, in moments high and low. "If it's not right, do not do it," Truman underlined in his well-worn copy of Meditations, "if it is not true, do not say it. . . . First do nothing thoughtlessly or without a purpose. Secondly, see that your acts are directed to a social end." Truman was punctual. He was honest. He worked hard. He didn't cheat on his wife. He paid his taxes. He disliked attention or ostentatiousness. He was polite. He kept his word. He helped his neighbors. He carried his own weight in the world. "Since childhood at my mother's knee," Truman would recount, "I have believed in honor, ethics, and right living as its own reward." It was good that he thought of it as its own reward, because for many years, there was not much more in it for him than that. After high school, Truman tried his hand as a mailroom boy at the Kansas City Star, a drugstore cashier, a timekeeper for the Santa Fe Railroad, a bank clerk, and a farmer. He was rejected first from West Point for his poor eyesight and then second-and in fact repeatedly-by the love of his life, Bess Wallace, whose family did not think he was good enough. So he struggled on, making ends meet-just barely. Waiting for a chance to prove himself. The first one came exactly twenty-seven years before Truman entered the White House, when he took his first trip out of the country, landing in the city of Brest, France, as a member of the American Expeditionary Forces, the captain of Battery D, an artillery unit. The list of Truman's plausible exemptions from service in World War I is long. He was thirty-three years old, well past the draft age. He'd already done his time in the National Guard. His eyes were terrible. And as a farmer and the sole breadwinner for his sister and mother, no one expected him to enlist. Yet it was unconscionable to him that someone else would serve in his place. Stirred by Woodrow Wilson's call to make the world safe for democracy-to work toward a "social end," as the Stoics had taught him-he signed up and went. It was here, suddenly, that his strict code of personal conduct was first put up in front of other people. "You know justice is an awful tyrant," Truman would write in a letter home, reflecting on the discipline he had to exert over his men, meting out strict but fair punishment to transgressors. Yet he was also the same kind of leader who risked a court-martial to give them an extra night of rest as the war raged, and who was, many years later, still frequenting businesses owned by men in Battery D to help keep them afloat. After the war, Truman started a clothing store, which was successful just long enough to give him hope, to feel like his bad luck was over. It would shortly become another business failure, leaving him with debts he'd feel so honor bound to repay that he was still carrying (and servicing) them fifteen years later, well into his political career. In fact, it was those very debts that compelled him to enter politics. "I have to eat," were his words when he went hat in hand to an army buddy, Jim Pendergast, the nephew of Kansas City's all-powerful political boss. Tom Pendergast, who controlled all the offices and patronage for the state, was willing to look kindly on his beloved nephew's friend and allowed him to run for Jackson County court judge in 1922. If one were writing the backstory for a corrupt politician, Truman's real life would be sympathetic to even the most cynical audience. He had been a good man. He had served his country. He had witnessed his own father dabble in local politics as the overseer of roads in Grandview, Missouri, in 1912, a position where corruption wasn't just common, it was accepted-practically part of the political process. And yet Harry's father, despite being broke, resisted the temptation to cheat his neighbors and line his own pockets. The job ground his father down, and two years later he would be dead, leaving the family with nothing but debts-a tradition Harry seemed primed to continue. There Harry was, bankrupt and desperate for a job, anointed into politics by one of the most corrupt and wealthy bosses in the country, holding in part the position his father had held. This was his chance to make some money! To show his wife that he was somebody special. To make his place in the world. Instead, he would prove himself, in Pendergast's words, to be the "contrariest goddamn mule in the world." Setting out to build a courthouse for the county, Truman drove thousands of miles on his own dime to scout buildings and architects. When construction began, he drove to the building site every day and supervised, refusing to allow theft or grift or shoddy work. "I was taught that the expenditure of public money is a public trust," he explained, "and I have never changed my opinion on that subject. No one has ever received any public money for which I was responsible unless he gave honest service for it." Contractors from the political machine sent to Truman were shocked when he actually wanted to see bids-and that he didn't seem to favor local business over better, more efficient companies from out of state. You'll get contracts from me, he said, when you give me the lowest bid. He would later estimate that he could have stolen as much as $1.5 million from the county in his time in office. Instead, he saved them many times that. "On April 30th, 1929, after Harry had assigned something over $6 million in road contracts," his biographer David McCullough would write, "a judgment of default for $8,944.78 was brought against him for his old haberdashery debts. His mother, meantime, had been forced to take another mortgage on the farm. Yet when one of his new roads cut 11 acres from her property, he felt he must deny her the usual reimbursement from the county, as a matter of principle, given his position." "Looks like everybody in Jackson County got rich but me," Truman would write to his wife, Bess. "I'm glad I can sleep well even if it is a hardship on you and Margie for me to be so damn poor." To his daughter, he would admit he was a financial failure, but say with pride that he had tried to leave her "something that (as Mr. Shakespeare says) cannot be stolen-an honorable reputation and a good name." As it happened, it was this frustrating and dogged fastidiousness that eventually propelled Truman's career past the local level, "kicking him upstairs," so to speak, into Missouri's open Senate seat. Surely it couldn't hurt to have a man in Washington, but mostly Pendergast, who had known never to ask Truman to do anything unethical, wanted somebody more typical-more amenable-in the job closer to home. Of course, that's not how the people in Washington saw it. The colleagues who didn't snub Truman as a hick referred to him as the "Senator from Pendergast," assuming he was bought and purchased. All Truman could do was return to Marcus Aurelius, particularly a passage he'd marked up with the note "True! True! True!" When men say injurious things about you, approach their poor souls, penetrate within, and see what kind of men they are. You will discover that there is no reason to take trouble that these men have a good opinion of you. However, you must be well disposed towards them, for by nature they are friends. Truman toiled away in obscurity as a senator, failing to make an impression with the public until 1941 when his Subcommittee on War Mobilization began to investigate wartime contracts. Suddenly, the man's experiences with temptation and municipal corruption came in handy-he knew how the system worked, he knew where the bodies would be buried. And having watched the hypocritical scrutiny to which politicians and the press had subjected New Deal money that was intended to help the desperate poor, Truman was in no mood to "tolerate" the waste those same groups were willing to accept when it came to defense contractors. What became known as the "Truman Committee" would, according to a Time profile in 1943, give "red faces to cabinet members, war agency heads, generals, admirals, big businessmen, little businessmen and labor leaders." It would end up saving American taxpayers roughly $15 billion and send corrupt officials, including two brigadier generals, to jail. "I'm hoping to make a reputation as a Senator," Truman had written to his wife, "though if I live long enough that'll make the money successes look like cheese. But you will have to put up with a lot if I do it because I won't sell influence and I'm perfectly willing to be cussed if I'm right." Today, with our extensive (though insufficient) campaign finance laws and other forms of legal compliance, perhaps this all seems rather minor. The fact that corruption seems obviously wrong and shameful makes it easy to miss just how remarkable and solitary Truman's honest political life was-it is one thing to try to keep your hands clean, it's another to manage to do it in a den of thieves. Perhaps you don't see why it matters whether a president insists on paying the postage for letters he sends to his sister-"Because they were personal. There was nothing official about them." But that's the point. You're either the kind of person who draws ethical lines like that or you're not. You either respect the code or you don't. Was it this honesty and the goodwill it engendered that had convinced FDR to choose Truman as his running mate? Or did FDR pick him because the man wasn't much of a threat? All we know is that in April 1945, FDR succumbed to a stroke during a break in Warm Springs, Georgia, and suddenly the ordinary man was president. Though neither the lure of money nor the temptations of notoriety had dented his character to this point, one could be forgiven for assuming that perhaps total power might finally do it. But that didn't affect Truman's self-discipline either. Before he took office, he had been a punctual man. It had been ingrained early, from his school days, where students were expected, according to the rulebook, "to be punctual and regular in attendance; obedient in spirit; orderly in action; diligent in study; gentle and respectful in manner." And now that he was president, even though all would have waited on him without complaint, it remained unthinkable to him to be late. "When he went to lunch," one of his clerks would explain, "if he left word that he'd return at 2:00 p.m., he was back without fail, not at 2:05, not at 1:15, but at 2:00 p.m." There were four clocks on the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, plus two in the room and one on his wrist. Even his walking, which had been trained into him in the army, was on time-always 120 steps per minute. Hotel clerks and reporters could set their own watches to Truman's daily routine. "Oh, he'll be stepping off the elevator at 7:29 a.m.," they'd say whenever he visited New York. Excerpted from Right Thing, Right Now: Good Values. Good Character. Good Deeds by Ryan Holiday All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.