Oh, there are a lot of things that come to mind when one asks himself that question, like always keep our dick in our pants and never trust a Democrat, but the question at my age is probing for something deeper. What is the purest distillate of 81 years of experience? What one statement conveys to posterity the condensation of a lifetime of failures and successes, of joy and despair, and of triumphs and regrets?
What one lesson would I like to impart to my children and their children and their grandchildren and great grandchildren? After much thought and soul searching I think I've found the answer. It's a simple, almost obvious admonition, yet one that is almost universally ignored.
Every human is a universe around which everything else revolves.
Every human being, without exception, is a self-centered, conceited egomaniac. This is not a condemnation of anyone. It is rather the recognition of an observable fact – a fact that is so necessary to the evolution of the species that it has been engraved in our DNA as deeply as the need to breath.
If you have any doubts about the veracity of that statement, a cursory self-evaluation should remove all reservations. Yes, it's true that we make accommodations for the other people in our lives, but those accommodations are for our own convenience, not theirs. What is your reaction if your sister or your son or your spouse does not conform to your expectations?
The truth is we tend to think of other people as satellites orbiting our own little universe, and we expect them to stay in the orbit we have prescribed for them. If they do not, we are hurt, and angry, and resentful. In the final analysis, it's not their welfare in which we are interested, but their contribution to our comfort zone.
And it seldom if ever occurs to us that other people see us as mere satellites orbiting their universes. But the realization of that fact is the secret of success. It's the secret that made Donald Trump and Warren Buffet billionaires.
By yourself, you can't succeed at much else than building a shack on Walden Pond. If you are to truly succeed, you need help – the help of other people. And you get other people to help you by making them feel good about themselves.
But you must be sincere. People are put off by a glad-handing smile-and-a-shoeshine Willy Loman, and they instinctively distrust the condescending college freshman psychology class "How do you feel about that?" approach. To get others to help you, you've got to give them what they want, and that means you've got to know what they want. You've got to study people, and more than that, you've got to really like and respect them.
And that is the true secret of success.