Qualify for Civil Liberty

Thanks to Richard Bruneau for sharing this great quote*:

“Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains on their own appetites; in proportion as their love of justice is above their rapacity; in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption; in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the councils of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon the will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”

*Edmund Burke, “The Works of Edmund Burke,” Vol. 4, (Waltham, Mass.: Little, Brown, 1866), p. 51-52
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When Laughter is the Best Medicine

Dear Joseph,

You have a contagious laugh. It always cracks me up to see something get your funny bone.

While laughter is often “the best medicine” in tough times, I’ve found it that only really works when that laughter isn’t coming at the expense of someone else. No one likes being laughed at, especially in public. Given your gentle heart, I think you get that.

Your laughter is a great gift and it will help you get through a lot. It’s helped me get through a lot. Just remember it works best when we find the humor in our own behavior.


Rule 18. Do not laugh too loud or too much at any public spectacle.

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God Gave Us Two Ears, One Mouth

Dear Joseph,

I once had somebody tell me that the reason we have two ears and one mouth is that it was God’s way of telling us that we should listen twice as much as we talk.

I don’t know if that was really his reason, but on a certain level it makes sense.

As you know, I am a big George Washington fan for lots of reasons. I think he understood the listen twice as often as you speak principle very well. So well in fact that, his vice president said that he “possessed the gift of silence.”

Your mom has a similar ability to listen to others…me, let’s just say that I’m working on it. When my mouth is moving too much (which happens regularly), your mom has found discreet ways to remind me to stop and listen. Her help has made me a better friend and a much better listener. I’ve also found that I learn a lot more when I keep my ears open and my mouth closed.

As I’ve watched you Joseph, I believe you possess that gift to listen, to be silent. It is a gift that blesses our family, and helps me be a better dad.


Rule 17: In general, it is good manners to let others speak before ourselves.

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What do your friends say about you?

Dear Joseph:

I remember when I played tennis that I always wanted to play people that were better than me. Not because I liked losing, but by playing tough competition I was forced to work harder and play smarter. I had to step my game up.

On the flip side, I found that when I played people that were not that good that I started to pick up bad habits, because I didn’t need to be sharp to beat them.

One of the things I love most about and that attracted me to her when we were first dating was how being around her made me want to be my best self. I feel very blessed to have married up.

So the question for you and me is: Do our friends challenge us – OR – are we playing down to the level of competition? Does being around a certain group of people pull the best out of us – OR – does their influence bring out the the worst?

Friends that make us want to try a little harder to be a little better are the best kinds of friends in the world. And finding friends like that is a worthy goal to strive for.


Rule 16: A good reputation starts by surrounding yourself with quality people. Remember it is better to be alone than in bad company.

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Are you listening?

Dear Joseph,

Your brother, David, has an interesting habit.

When he wants you to listen and he thinks you are not, Are You Listening to Me?he grabs your face with both his hands and pulls it close to his face so that he is looking you right in the eyes. I must admit it works, because it’s awfully hard to do anything but listen when you’re looking him right in the eye.

In a way though, his having to do that is a reflection on me as a dad, namely that  if I’d listen from the beginning he wouldn’t have to turn my head from what I’m doing so that he could ensure that I’m listening.

Most people aren’t like David. They won’t come up and grab your face when you’re not listening, but they will take note of the lack of focus. Nothing tells another person how important they really are to you than giving them a listening and attentive ear.

Often that courtesy is more important than the answer or response we give.


Rule 15: When another speaks, be attentive yourself and disturb not the audience. If any hesitate in his words, help him not nor prompt him without desired. Interrupt him not, nor answer him till his speech be ended.

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Got Personal Space?

(UPDATED – 3/16)

Dear Joseph,

Your mom likes to tease me a bit about how when we were first married I would only hug her for about 2 seconds, and then I was ready for a little space. I was definitely not a “hugger” as she put it.  And while I can enjoy her hugs for much longer now, I generally still like a bit more space.

I don’t know where it comes from, but we human beings each come with a need for personal space. It’s also very personal in terms of how much or how little someone needs. As your mom found out, my personal space force field is a bit bigger than most.

When we give someone the personal space they need, we show a respect for the most basic form ownership, the ownership of our own bodies. So it’s easy to see that by getting into someone’s personal space uninvited, then becomes an intrusion that is hard to overcome.

And while baseball players may pride themselves on how well they can get into someone else’s personal space, we’ll get a lot further with others if we don’t.


Rule 12: Shake not the head, feet, or legs; roll not the eyes; lift not one eyebrow higher than the other, wry not the mouth, and wet no man’s face with your spittle by approaching too near him when you speak.

Rule 13: Turn not your back to others, especially in speaking; jog not the table or desk on which another reads or writes; lean not upon anyone.

Rule 14: While you are talking, point not with your finger at him of whom you discourse, nor approach too near him to whom you talk, especially to his face.

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Chess & Sacrifice

Dear Joseph,

You are becoming quite the chess player. I remember when I started playing chess with my dad as a boy and the satisfaction that came when I finally beat him for the first time. I know it won’t be long before you get me.

Games are a lot of fun and they can teach us a lot of useful lessons. One lesson they can teach is to give up something for someone else. Sometimes this can be in letting someone play with us that isn’t as skilled. Sometimes it looks like giving up our spot so someone else can have a turn.

These little moments of “sacrifice” teach us that there is more to life than winning and losing. As we learn that sacrifice we become a better teammate, a better friend, and ultimately a better leader.


Rule 11: At game-time and at fire, it’s good manners to give place to the last comer, and affect not to speak louder than ordinary.

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Political Civility To Be Tested in Madison, WI

The current teacher protests in Madison, WI provide us a real chance to put political civility to the test. The rubber is hitting the road, so to speak. As I watch the various news reports come in, I would say that the jury is still out on whether or not union members and legislators will rise to the occasion.

But signs like this one certainly will not be helpful. To equate the legislative changes and benefit reductions with the man responsible for the death of millions is irresponsible and it undermines the teachers’ position.

I do not believe this sign is representative of the vast majority of teachers in Madison, but it casts an ugly shadow on what they are trying to accomplish there with their peaceful protesting.

Again the power of movements like the Civil Rights movement was their ability to demonstrate civility and behave better than those standing in the way of the reforms they rightfully sought.

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Does your face know you’re happy?

Dear Joseph,

I once heard a famous football coach say, “I’ve been told I’m generally a happy person, but I forget to tell my face.”

You have been “cursed” with your dad’s if you're happy, make sure you tell your faceconcentration face, and I apologize right now.

Like most things that just come because of our DNA, we have to work all the harder to be aware of and correct for the parts of those traits that don’t work so well in public. So it is with our concentration face.

Whether we like it or not, our face can either open the door or close it off. The warmth of a smile or genuine expression of concern make connecting with others possible.


PS: The concentration face is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s been well developed by a long line of Swims. You just have to use it sparingly.

Rule 10: Let your countenance be pleasant but in serious matters somewhat grave.

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Zone in or out?

Dear Joseph,

It has been fun spending time on these letters. I feel like it’s given me a chance to think about you and helped me to be more observant of your strengths and character.

I’ve realized during this process that you and I share a lot in common. One of those common traits is to get in the “zone.” The zone is that place of ultimate concentration that allows us both to block just about everything out except for the thing we are working on.

This is a great asset when we have to get things done, but it comes with a downside. When we’re in the zone it means we tune out people as well. We tend to not notice how we are behaving or what we are doing that may bother someone else. It seems like the only way to get out of the zone is the loving help of another.

Your mom usually just gives me a gentle tap on the leg as a cue to get back to being more aware of others. I used to be bugged by the tap, but now I’m grateful.

I hope you will come to feel the same as your mom and I do our best to help you balance your capacity to focus on a task with being aware of others.


Rule 8: In the presence of others, sing not to yourself with a humming voice, or drum with your fingers or feet.

Rule 9: Sleep not when others speak, sit not when others stand, speak not when you should hold your peace, walk not on when others stop.

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