The Godfather: Lessons

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I watched the classic movie adaptation of Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather for the umpteenth time last week. Twenty-five years after the last of the triology was released, the movie is still interesting and captivating. So let’s look at the lessons one can pick up from the movie.

1. Anger truly rests in the bosom of fools.
“Never get angry. Never make a threat. Reason with people.” – Don Vito Corleone

Don Vito Corleone’s first child Santino (Sonny) was hot-headed and that was his undoing. He smashed cameras, yelled at the Don’s consigliere Tom Hagen and publicly beat the sister’s husband, Carlo to a pulp. In the end, he became predictable, manipulable and was massacred.

2. Money is always an issue even amongst friends.
“Friendship and money. Oil and water” – Michael Corleone

How often have we heard people say “don’t mix friendship with business”? Friendship tends to take a back seat in business because everybody is out to make profits. It is all about personal interests and this can put a strain on a friendship.

3. Wisdom is better than strength.
“The sicker you get, the wiser you get” – Kay Corleone
“Women and children can afford to be careless, but not men.” – Don Vito Corleone

Initially, Sonny was perceived to be stronger thn Michael but in the long run, Michael proved to be a better don with his wisdom. Sonny was temperamental and acted on impulse whilst Michael was wise, intelligent and calculative.

4. Power intoxicates like wine.
“Power corrupts those who do not have it.” – Calo

Vito Corleone built the Don Corleone empire on friendship, humility, loyalty and family. This earned him respect, love and power. He was never power drunk or money conscious; all he asked in return was friendship and loyalty. However, Micheal was the complete opposite. He focused so much on power and money, and succeeded in legitimising the family business but lost all the friends and family around him. He drove his wife, Kay, away, murdered his brother Fredo and his sister Connie’s husband, and questioned Tom’s loyalty – the only person that was ever present for him. He ended up alone and abandoned in contrast to Vito who died at an old age in the midst of family and friends.

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5. Violence is the last resort.
“Once war erupts, lives are lost, business close down or completely halts. I don’t like violence Tom. I am a business man. Blood is a big expense.” – Don Sollozo
“I hoped we could come here and reason together. And, as a reasonable man, I’m willing to do whatever’s necessary to find a peaceful solution to these problems.” – Don Vito Corleone

Despite being a movie centred on the Italian mafia, it is interesting to note that diplomacy was chosen over violence throughout the movie. Don Vito Corleone was always diplomatic and always made an offer you can’t refuse.

6. Family is everything.
“A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man. The only wealth in this world is children, more than all the money,  power and wealth” – Don Vito Corleone

The movie depicts Vito Corleone as a family man who gave everything for his family. He adopted Tom Hagen as his son just like the Abbandando family adopted him after he fled Sicily. He repaid the Abbandandos, by making Genco Abbandando the first consigliere of the Corleone family.

7. Keep your business private.
“Never tell anyone outside the family what you are thinking again.” – Don Vito Corleone

Every family has secrets that are exclusive to them. It’s best to keep your business private. Don’t discuss your personal or family issues/business to outsiders. Someone may use the information in their favour or for their own personal gain.

8. Afford people some level of privacy; don’t meddle in their affairs.
“Sonny don’t get involved.” – Carmela Corleone to Sonny after he tried to break the fight between the sister Connie and husband Carlo at the dinner table.
“It don’t make any difference to me what a man does for a living, you understand.” – Don Vito Corleone

Everybody wants a little privacy. Try to mind your own business. Don’t take aspirin for other people’s headache. Giving personal advice on personal matters is a no-no unless your opinion is sought for.

9. Emotions cloud your judgments.
“Never hate your enemies. It clouds your judgment.” – Michael Corleone

People often get emotional and take sides in every situation and become biased. The emotions cloud what they think they see. Don’t make decisions when you are angry and don’t make promises when you are happy.

10. Don’t mix business with pleasure.
“I’m here on business I leave tomorrow now get rid of them. Come on, I’m tired. Get rid of the band, too.” – Michael Corleone to his brother Fredo after the latter offered him some girls.

We all struggle to maintain focus in our daily lives. Mixing business with pleasure can derail your focus and make you lose the big picture. Michael was a very focused business man, which helped him to come up with a solution to problems at a quicker speed.

11. Respect is earned not given.
“Now you come and say “Don Corleone, give me justice.” But you don’t ask with respect. You don’t offer friendship. You don’t even think to call me “Godfather.” – Don Vito Corleone

We often delude ourselves that we are owed respect because of our talent, money, fame, beauty, intelligence etc. The naked truth is that no matter how awesome you may think you are, no one owes you shit..you have to earn it. Don Vito Corleone earned the respect of people in his neighbourhood by making sure he addressed the concerns of the people unlike Don Fanucci who terrorised the neighbourhood and let them weak his beak a little.

12. Health is wealth.
Good health is the most important thing. More  than success, more than money, more than power – Hyman Roth

This is just to reiterate what we already know. A healthy man is a wealthy man. Just because you are trying to make ends meet doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay attention to your health and take care of yourself. Exercise often and watch what you consume.

13. Don’t cry wolf too often lest people will doubt your sincerity.
“He’s been dying from the same heart attack for the last twenty years.” – Michael Corleone

Regurgitating your words will make it hard for people to believe whatever that comes out of your mouth overtime. Hyman Roth kept complaining about his deteriorating health to a point that no one believed him anymore. Michael eventually got tired of his complaints and made him sleep with the fishes.

14 First cut is the deepest.
We all carry emotional and physical scars from life battles but first cut is the deepest. And it will always be. Our past will always determine the way we act in the present and see the future. Don Cicci massacred young Vito Corleone’s family and made him an orphan. He only escaped because the mum held a knife to Don Cicci’s throat and let him abscond. He never forgot that and returned to Sicily years later to kill Don Cicci.

15. Jealousy is for the weak.
Movie star, Arnold Schwarzenegger once said ‘Everybody pities the weak; jealousy you have to earn .’ We only feel jealous towards others when we think we are in direct competition with them. Fredo Corleone was annoyed by his father’s decision to make Michael the next Don following the death of Sonny. Hyman Roth played on Fredo’s weakness, naivety and jealousy for his younger brother, Michael and used him as a pawn in an unsuccessful attempt to eliminate the Don.

What did you learn from the movie that I omitted? Please do tell.

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Opinions and Attention

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Naturally, I am not attracted to groups so I try not to join any but life has presented me with different reasons, at different stages and on different occasions, to do so. Right from an early age, I had to join the Bible, quiz and football clubs to hone my academic and soccer abilities. This continued as I grew older and I proceeded to join a research team as a post-graduate student.

There are several reasons why one may benefit from group inclusion. Just like me, many join groups for purposes of social, spiritual, educational and political change. These groups afford us the chance to meet up and have different interactions with others.

However, there is something about groups I abhor. Groups tend to promote crowd mentality amongst their members. And this doesn’t align with my belief. I believe one has the right to think freely on his/her own. According to Mark Twain, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority. It is time to pause and reflect.”

Groups often infiltrate the minds of their members thereby making them see themselves in a positive way and others (opponents & people dissimilar to them) in a negative way. For example, back in secondary school, it was deemed wrong/degrading for members of certain groups to relate with members of other groups. As a consequence, social distance is created.

Social distance is based on the concepts of race, ethnicity, class and status. It reflects the degree to which people are willing to accept or reject social intercourse with others with different social characteristics.

Social distance succinctly explains why we disregard the opinions of those we feel are below us e.g our gatemen etc because their ideas and dreams seem bare and ordinary to us. So we only bother ourselves with opinions of those we feel are above us or on the same level with us.

In every organisation or institution, low-rank individuals often pay attention to the affairs of high-rank individuals. This explains why rich people pay little attention to those below them. Daniel Goleman in his article “Rich People Just Care Less” published in the New York Times, wrote “The more powerful pay less attention to us than we do to them, in other situations we are relatively higher on the totem pole of status — and we, too, tend to pay less attention to those a rung or two down.”

Think about this: when a rich/successful (wo)man says something, whether it sounds smart or stupid, people are awed. In contrast, many might turn a blind eye to a well-thought analysis offered by a poor wise man. No wonder King Solomon, who many believe to be the wisest man that ever lived, said in Ecclesiastes 9 vs 16, “Wisdom is better than strength, those who are wise will be despised if they are poor. What they say will not be appreciated for long.”

In this information age, your long-term success depends on winning the attention of others. According to Steve Rubel of Edelman, “Attention is the most important currency that anybody can give you. It’s worth more than money, possessions or things.” It’s not easy to gain people’s attention. It requires hard work, determination and time.

Nobody pays attention to someone who shares a common opinion (only famous people are an exception to this). We rather turn our attention to people who we deem threats, superior or have uncommon opinions.

Therefore, to leave your mark and make a difference, you have to focus your attention inward and be bold enough to challenge the status quo. Only then will people pay attention to you.

Slow and Steady

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I was going through my records recently and came across an essay I wrote in my teen years. Back then, I wasn’t a fan of writing so you can imagine how good or bad the essay was.

Although I loved scribbling things on anything that was close to me whenever I found myself holding a pen or pencil, I hated writing essays. I never paid attention in class; I found the stories & novels boring when they were read out in class. I prefered to watch a movie adaptation of the novels.

This continued until a friend
of mine who I usually depended on during assessments ridiculed me and this made me angry. I channeled my anger towards learning literature on my own. I would spend time correcting and correcting my essays till I was satisfied.

The first time I actually wrote an article was back in 2008 on a hospital bed and since then, I’ve come ease to myself into it – slowly but steady. I am still learning though and do have writer’s block once in a while.

The mordern world depends on technology and thence built on speed and immediate results. As a result, we are often in a hurry to get things done. Even when it isn’t necessary, we act and feel something is on our heels.

However, the process of learning is a very slow one. Any business, skill, vocation or situation worth learning or mastering, requires time, effort and focus. Philip Stanhope once said “Whoever is in a hurry shows that thing he is about is too big for him.”

It is important for one to have a sense of urgency for whatever s/he is doing however we often mistake hurry sickness for sense of urgency. Sense of urgency is the ability to identify things that require urgent attention and acting upon them ASAP but when one is in a hurry, s/he feels there’s need to rush everything even when there’s no reason to.

Assuming you have been given a deadline to submit a coursework/project/proposal. A person with a sense of urgency will start working as soon as possible, giving himself ample time to finish and go through his work over and over again before the deadline. In contrast, someone who is in a hurry will rush the work and give little or no room to cross-check his/her work.

You can’t get much done if you lack sense of urgency but by doing things hurriedly, we reduce our effectiveness, lower quality of our work and possibly make avoidable mistakes. Take heed to the words of Earl Monroe, “Just be patient. Let the game come to you. Don’t rush. Be quick, but don’t hurry.”

There’s no need to be in a hurry. Be quick but agbana speed. Speed kills. Slow and steady wins the race.