A Life Changing Conversation

During the time that I was working for the real estate consulting firm back in the late 70’s and early 80’s, I accompanied the chairman of the board of the firm to a meeting with a client of ours. As we were sitting in the reception area in the suite of offices where the meeting was going to take place, the chairman turned to me and said, “I can tell that you’re an Irish Catholic.”

I replied, “Why, because I have the map of Ireland written on my face?”

He said, “No, it’s because you always ask.”

I said, “I don’t understand. What do you mean?”

He replied, “Well, you always ask for permission before you do something. It’s the same way that I envision you sitting in a class room and asking permission before going to the bathroom, or something like that.”

I laughed and said, “Well, if you had both the Irish Christian Brothers and the Jesuits as teachers, and if you did something wrong got the living you-know-what beat out of you, you’d ask too.”

He went on to say, “You know, Paul, a Jewish kid is raised differently. (This man was obviously Jewish). A Jewish kid is taught to very carefully assess what the upside potential might be in any decision, and weigh that very carefully against what the downside risks might be as a result of making that decision. And, you know, Paul, typically when you do that, the downside risks aren’t that bad.”

He continued, “And, even if the downside risks turn out to be much worse than originally thought, and it turns out that a horrible mistake has been made, the Jewish kid is taught to beat his breast and say, ‘My God, how could I have been so stupid? I don’t know how I could have done such a thing. How awful. I’m terribly sorry-and, it won’t happen again’.”

And then he dropped the punch line. He said, “And, really, Paul, what else is left to say after someone says that they’re sorry? Besides, if you ask permission, fifty percent of the time, someone’s going to say ‘no’.”

That one conversation changed my life, forever. I concluded that he was absolutely right.

It’s much better to beg for forgiveness, than it is for permission.

The only problem with all of this is that I have taught this lesson very well to my children-and, they’ve sometimes driven me into fits of apoplexy as a result.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *