Paddington Bear Meets Rambo
This marks the return of Not Pretty, Not Rich, after an 11-month hiatus. Thank you for subscribing. This is a newsletter about doing things the hard way, whether that’s building a business, or simply learning to change your mind.
It’s March 1, 2022, and given what’s happening in the world, here’s this week’s rundown:
If we were in a Ukrainian’s shoes, would you step up?
Learning to admit you were wrong (and giving leeway to those who do)
Numbers and links
Would you step up?
Facing the destruction of their country, Ukrainians are dropping everything, taking up arms, and punching back. Would we do the same?
Watching Ukrainians fight back against Russia has been astounding. Everything is on the line, and they’re rising to the occasion. People are picking up guns, going into the streets, and fighting for their country.
And in doing so, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is etching himself a place in history. When the U.S. offered to get him out of Kyiv, his response?
“I need ammunition, not a ride.”
That’s the type of Rambo shit that we all wish we could say when we’re staring down life’s trials and tribulations. They’re going to be building statues of this guy at some point. Also, Zelensky is the voice of Paddington Bear.
Paddington Bear meets Rambo.
While we all like to think we’d react in a similar way, the truth is, we don’t know how we’ll react to a situation until we’re in it.
Zelensky is rising to the occasion in a way that we really haven’t seen out of many people in recent years. There’s been so much capitulation and cowardice from leaders (both political and in the business world) to guys like Putin, autocratic foreign governments, or just to shareholders, that it’s really refreshing to see someone do the right thing.
And he has most people behind him.
But I can’t help but wonder, if we were facing a similar bout with annihilation in the U.S., if we would rise to the occasion, too? I do think, on one hand, that it would be quite ballsy to try and conquer the U.S. via a land invasion. Everyone is armed to the teeth already!
However, we also just faced another huge crisis in the form of a public health crisis, and collectively, didn’t handle it too well. So, while many Americans may like to think that we’d be reacting to an invasion or crisis the same way that many Ukrainians are, I’m not so sure we would.
That said, I do think that a good percentage of the population would be in the streets in a heartbeat. It’s just a question of how many there would be.
Some people can’t even deal with relatively minor inconveniences, after all. Could we seriously be expected to put aside not only our differences, but to put down our Wawa hoagies and Playstation controllers, and sacrifice for the common good? I’d like to think so, but I’m not confident.
That’s all to say that the situation in Ukraine is giving us a chance to see some real heroics in action–something we really don’t witness much these days, at least not live on TV. The world is, for the most part, united in the fact that Russia is a clear aggressor and a menace, and that there is a pretty clear good-guy-bad-guy dynamic at play here. Of course, we don’t know everything, but the world is rooting for Ukraine, by and large.
While most of us have little or nothing to do with it, we can see what the Ukrainian people are doing, and ask ourselves if we’d be willing to do the same. With no promise that we’d be able to resume our normal lives, or that we’d even get to go home. Would you be willing to make Molotov cocktails in your kitchen? (don’t do this)
For Ukrainians, there isn’t much choice. It’s do or die. Literally. It’s easy to forget that war can quickly arrive at your doorstep.
Maybe a thought experiment is in order: Put yourself in the shoes of the Ukrainian soldiers on Snake Island. The 13 soldiers stationed on the island were told to surrender by the Russian navy, or that they would be killed (it seems they may have been captured). Their response, knowing it would seal their fate?
“Russian warship, go fuck yourself.”
How would you respond if you facing annihilation?
A challenge: Learn to admit you were wrong – and to forgive those who do
Learning to reassess our views isn’t easy. But when it comes to how many feel about Vladimir Putin, it’s time to own up.
I was at a family function a few years ago and found myself talking to a distant family member. This person had had a few drinks and decided to corner me as they puffed a cigarette.
They were living in Eastern Europe, having moved to Russia to attend college (or shortly thereafter), and now living in another country in, what I’m told, is a very nice home near the Black Sea.
So, this was an American, who had been educated and benefitted from an American upbringing, who had then gone off to Europe, and was now intent on unloading their galaxy brain takes relating to American politics, and Russia, on me.
I’m not quite sure how it started. But I mentioned Vladimir Putin’s role in destabilizing several democracies in recent years (ours, the U.K., France, etc.), to which this person took great offense. “He’s invaded and annexed portions of other countries…and even staged terrorist attacks to do so,” I said.
“No – that was all propaganda. “Putin’s a wonderful man. You Americans are just too stupid to realize it,” they replied.
I brought up the fact that Russia had invaded Georgia in 2008, and Ukraine in 2014; at the time, I don’t think anyone would’ve imagined that Russia would engage in a full-scale invasion of Ukraine just a few years later.
Those examples, they assured me, were not true. “It didn’t happen. I have a house in Georgia, actually, and everything there is fine.”
She then called me an idiot in front of my wife, who took much greater offense to it than I did, and lumbered off to blow smoke in someone else’s face.
(I was recently made aware that this person has, apparently, posted photos of themselves at an anti-war protest. So, maybe they’ve come around.)
It was a weird encounter. I had never really met anyone who was enamored with Vladimir Putin, of all people. A man who, as I had brought up, ordered the invasions of multiple countries by that time. Who poisons his political enemies. Who stages false flag attacks to help his political posturing. But alas, that person was not alone.
Not in the U.S., and not by a long shot.
These people, however, were wrong about Putin. Recent events have proven it. And though we live in a polarized time, when admitting any type of fault or error is unthinkable in some spheres, it’s important that we all learn how to admit that we were wrong, and that we’ve changed our minds. It’s also important for those who weren’t wrong to accept that someone can or has changed their position, and promptly get over it. If we can learn to do that – to give each other some leeway – I think we’ll make the world a much more tolerable place.
But it can be hard to admit error. Some people, even when faced with it, will double-down rather than come to terms with it. For instance, the previous president was also quite taken with Putin. He still is, evidently. And many of the people who share his thoughts and feelings about a number of issues do, too.
He’s wrong. He’s been wrong about Putin this entire time and refuses to give it up. This has had a cascade effect and is leading to this sort of thing that recently spilled out of the mouth of a recent Republican Senate candidate:
It’s rare to have such a clear-cut good-guy, bad-guy dynamic play out on the world stage. But with the Ukraine situation, we appear to have one. Russia attacked a neighbor with no apparent justification. Russia is the overpowered bully, and Ukraine is doing what it can to fight back. Putin’s a menace.
And yet, some people just can’t quit.
Although I haven’t seen South Park in years, I couldn’t help but be reminded of this, which I think effectively demonstrates the dynamic between Russia and Ukraine:
Back to Putin, though — the people who have praised him (or continue to do so) are wrong. They’ve made a bad judgment. And we need them, especially if they carry some cultural weight, to admit they were wrong. That, of course, is one of the most difficult things that we humans can do.
We’re hardwired to double-down. For some people, the inability or outright refusal to admit error is due to a very fragile ego, according to some psychologists.
While some people, like the aforementioned family member, will likely never admit they were wrong about Putin, the rest of us can. Yes, it’ll involve eating some crow. It’s backtracking on what we said before. But doubling-down on being wrong, and supporting a guy who is, now, a pariah on the level of Kim Jong Un or Kevin Spacey? What does that say about you?
I’ll admit, I’ve had trouble admitting when I was wrong. And yet, I’m wrong all the time.
I was wrong to scoff at Mitt Romney a decade ago, when he said Russia was “our number one geopolitical foe”. He was right! I also, at the onset of COVID, told a coworker that I didn’t think we should write a story about it because it would probably pass without incident.
Whoa, Nelly! Wrong again!
The point is, we’re all wrong. All the time. About all sorts of things. We just need to learn to admit it, change our position, and move on. And we need to allow people to change their minds. To be wrong. To correct course when presented with new information.
We don’t need to hold it against them or rub their nose in it. The sooner we can learn to do so, the better off we’ll all be.
Numbers and Links
$170,000: The winning bid for Melania Trump’s NFT collection. The interesting (and not at all surprising) part? “...the winner of Melania Trump's NFT got the money from none other than the creator of the NFT itself, and an address linked to the NFT creator got the money back.” (Vice)
11%: The increase in annual homicides each year (around 700 in all) in the U.S. due to “stand your ground” laws, mostly in Southern states. (JAMA)
It looks like researchers have figured out that the pandemic’s origins are traced to a Wuhan seafood market. (NYT Magazine)
How a shotgun approach to creating content – podcasts, blog posts, etc. – helps Ritholtz Wealth Management’s Michael Batnick attract clients and new team members. (Barron’s)
“America has many problems. Reading too many books is not one of them.” (Ryan Holiday)
Hey, look, the locations of some yachts owned by Russian oligarchs! (Scott Bixby/Twitter)
See you next week.