Odds on the Prince

“Thanks, we will call you.”

I believe it when they say that. Unsurprisingly, I am a very literal person. If I said it, I would mean it.

But not everyone means it. I wish I could figure out who did and who didn’t.

I just finished a book You Can Read Anybody. The author, David Lieberman, had a whole system for how to interpret people.

Straight up: People are not thinking about you.

Well, sometimes they are, but only to wonder what you are thinking about THEM.

Of the people who were thinking about themselves–which in his world, was everyone–there are people who are confident and those who are insecure.

The insecure people spend more time trying to present an image to other people, and there are certain ways they can be expected to behave.

It seemed very true to me–but then, I would believe it, wouldn’t I? Literal person that I am–and it seemed very sad.

Are we all really so self-centered and out for ourselves?

Reminds me of another book: The Prince by Machiavelli.

Lieberman’s book makes me feel like everyone else is a poser and trying to impress. I am most certainly not like that…am I?

Machiavelli describes actions he recommends the rulers should take. It’s easy for me to distance myself from this fictional prince. I am not the ruler of anything!

But Machiavelli’s recommendations spring consistently from the most insecure viewpoint. No ruler is ever secure. No ruler can take chances with uncalculated mercy on his or her subjects.

In his world, Princes need to be paranoid and as merciless as a sociopath.

Machiavelli was not a prince. It very well may be easier to advise merciless action than to execute yourself.

Pragmatically speaking, always bet on people’s self-interest. It saddens me to think that people are so predictable along such self-centered lines.

Which may be why I don’t read people well. I want to believe in people.

Or it could be that I am just as self-centered as everyone else, and I want people to agree with MY value judgments.

I’m not that much better than other people. And even these experts might not know everything. Machiavelli had just been fired when he wrote The Prince. It was a gift to his patron to get his job back.

I might get a little better at reading people with these books. I think I’d like to take what I learn and avoid the people who are not straight with me. That’s how I’d like to take my chances.


Let us follow the natural order of things and begin with the primary facts.

I once read “All living things die.” I know that the heroic nature of our modern life is that we have something to lose. We lose our life.

But while I still have my life, I can lose the lives of others around me. I have lost friends, acquaintances, and last year I lost my father.

This week I lost my dog.

Dogs are even more mortal than humans. Seven times more mortal, using the rule of thumb that 1 dog year is 7 human years. Lucy dog had 13 years.

She was with me for all but the first part of her life. She did not know my inmost thoughts, but she definitely knew when I came home every day.

We shared a house. She paid more attention to this family than we paid to each other. We had to make room for one another, and work with each other to get what we needed. She did this expertly.

She had to ask to be let outside, so that she didn’t pee in the house. I didn’t want her to pee in the house, but I had less grace about it than she did. I would yell, “Didn’t I just open this door to let you in, and now you want me to open it again to let you out?!”

But we helped each other out.

She persuaded us to get to know our neighborhood, because she was confident that we needed to walk in it.

And we did. With alternating gratitude and grumbling, we learned the way the seasons flowered over the course of her life.

Until we were entwined. Every time I opened a door, every time I finished a meal, she had a request.

Empty peanut butter jars had a purpose.

And now she is gone. And the crusts I cut off my daughter’s sandwich are unsent letters.

I didn’t know they were important. Now they are mournful. My love-demanding dog is gone. I’ve learned that love is created in the giving of it, even if it is unwilling.

i wanted him to say “you are”

this week

someone couldn’t see it

How I created
made it just right

The just right part
was what he wanted to cut

My arms crossed
WHY so always?

WHY so invisible?

Didn’t I explain it?
Why can’t you see?

I KNOW it’s perfect

Is it me? because its from me?

time capsule to the beginning of everything
arms crossed
Foo stamped

WHY not?

waiting to for the glance
for the words

“You are”

Because I am

How loud do I have to shout to be heard?


I am

yes, I am

Just right

I KNOW I’m perfect

I don’t want to wait for the glance or the words

I don’t know what you are

but I am.

Choosing Autonomy

When we first knew each other, Chris and I set out on a road trip to see his family. We got about halfway there–three hours in– before I realized that I had left my wallet and my cell phone behind.

The cell phone I could deal with. I could borrow Chris’s cell phone to check my voice mail and that would cover the bases.

But my wallet being gone freaked me out. Chris watched me with concern as I started to melt down. “Don’t worry. I can take care of anything we need.”

That didn’t relieve me. I felt the world shrink around me. I would have to wait on someone else if I wanted or needed anything.

He tried a different tack, “Think this through. What are you really missing?”


He asked how much it would take for me to feel like I had autonomy. I decided for this trip $40 would do it.

He gave me two twenties and I was safe again.

I trusted him, but I wanted to be sure that if I needed or wanted something I wouldn’t have to ask for it. I wanted the power to get it for myself.

I want to be the one working the levers and making the choices. I don’t want to need permission or assistance from anyone else. I want access to the choices. That’s autonomy, an environment where I can make whatever choices I want and even change my mind at the last minute.

I react pretty strongly when I perceive something encroaching upon my autonomy.
Unfortunately, I don’t always notice.

In his magnificent work The Constitution of Liberty, Hayek talks about how we have to have a range of choices in order to have liberty. If the sources of information I have are restricted, if they tell me only one side of a story, then I cannot make informed choices. Those who control the information are manipulating me into a limited choice.

Manipulation is not autonomy. It is coercion. It prevents me from making the choices that suit me best.

I get mad just thinking about it.

How dare someone else try to control me! I don’t want to be limited in my choices!

But as soon as I start to heat up I recognize an even more basic truth. There is another far more common way that my choices are limited.

I narrow my own options. I choke my imagination and restrict the possibilities.

So often I stick to what is known and what seems safe. I will get tunnel vision and not even realize there are other options.

They say that a rut is a grave with both ends kicked out. I get in ruts far to often.

The song says it well: Free your mind and the rest will follow. It is not something I can let up on.