Remember the golden rule, do unto others, love thy neighbor, etc, etc.
There are a million ways to express the same sentiment, and that is, to simply, do the right thing. When we broach the subject of ethics/character it can get touchy, as some believe there are gray areas, while others believe there is only black and white. One thing is for certain, it is an issue that can lead to massive threads and heated viewpoints.
I know, I know, here he goes again on his high horse. Let's get a couple of things straight. I have made more mistakes than just about anybody on the planet, so I just want to refute the tag that someone laid upon me that I was trying to come across as "saint brsavage." I have a couple of reasons for being so outspoken, and I have absolutely no problem candidly sharing them with all of you. I'll gladly share with you these mistakes that I made so that later when we get back to ethics, you can understand I am speaking not from the "I'm better than you" throne, but more from the "I have been there and gone down that road" path.
In a land far, far away, there was once upon a time a very young man that thought he had found what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. It seemed to come natural to him, and being young and foolish he believed that he was invincible and would soon conquer the world. The problem was I was only 15 years old. I had been galloping horses for a little over a year, and there was no doubt in my mind that I had found "it," that thing I would do for the rest of my life.
When I was a little kid, I grew up in a house that had parking lots for the New Orleans Fair Grounds racetrack literally on either side of it. You could watch the races from my backyard, and I did so on a daily basis. While some kids dreamed of being NFL players, I daydreamed of one day being a jockey. The problem was I was raised in a very conservative household by my grandmother. Being a jockey didn't fit well into her plans for my going to private schools and doing something she deemed productive with my life.
As a freshman in high school, I became friends with a guy whose brother was a true "baller" in every sense of the word. He was the consummate action junkie. He was an oilman, horse owner and trainer, oh, and a gambling fiend.
As dysfunctional as it may sound, when I was fifteen I became best friends with a twenty eight year old guy. I was still a wet behind the ears teenager who had no idea what planet he was on. I began galloping horses for him every morning before school, and I scheduled my classes so that I could make it to the racetrack in the afternoons. It was very soon that I got caught up in the fast lane that would be my undoing. I was getting drunk frequently, not coming home, and I had more money than I could spend, the surefire recipe for doom. I wasn't worried about school, grades, or life in general, as I had it all figured out. In just a few months I would be 16 and able to be licensed as a jockey. Certainly fame and fortune would be mine forever when this happened.
Wrong. My world got turned upside down in one 24-hour period. My best friend and benefactor had been arrested. Apparently embezzling millions of your own dollars is illegal. He had a bunch of oil wells in a tract of land, and one of his major producers was in the name of a man from Mobile, Ala. who was a family friend. There was a limitation on the number of wells that could be owned by one interest, so hidden ownership was common, although quite illegal. When the family friend from Mobile died, my friend handled his estate and simply diverted the checks to his own account. The U.S. district attorney was a bitter political enemy of my friend's father, so it wasn't surprising that he filed federal mail fraud charges against him (check came in the mail).
Fast forward....friend loses everything, grandmother has family intervention with me, and I find myself angry and basically believing my world had ended. I was forbidden to have anything to do with the racetrack, and I was practically chained to the house, unless I was leaving to go to school.
In retrospect, I knew that a lot of what I was doing and how I was leading my life was wrong, but I just rationalized my way into justifying a lot of my actions. Not only was I devastated to give up my dream, but I lost my best friend to prison. I had no one to be angry with except myself, but I just wasn't able to admit that to myself back then. I was in complete denial.
There is a country song that has the lyrics, "thank God for unanswered prayers." No truer words could be spoken in terms of directly relating to me. I now know in my heart that it was a blessing that I was made to finish high school and have to find another way to support myself, even though I still had to go through mistake number two to really "find myself."
When I was supporting myself through college, I started to sell cars part time at a local Chevrolet dealership. Within 6 months, I was promoted to sales manager and started to make a way above average income. I was young and full of piss and vinegar so to speak, so I had no problem working a lot of hours. Ambition is a very powerful motivation to succeed, and I wanted a lot of things out of life. By this time my friend was out of the federal pen and was now trying to reclaim his life training horses. I still was very attracted to the horse business, so I started to buy thoroughbred racehorses. It was exciting to own and race them, and I was all about having a big baller image. One horse led to two, which led to many. My world rapidly became consumed with my stable of horses. As anyone who has owned them can attest, racehorses are not for those seeking a low overhead business enterprise.
Then it happened. I came home one day to a letter from the I.R.S. The day started out with me worried about where I would eat lunch and how many cars we would sell that day, and it ended with me staring at a letter that claimed I owed the government over $400,000. Apparently they don't like it when you fail to claim the income from your horses on your tax return. I was so stupid. Obviously the racetrack had to report my income to the government. So how would I respond to this? I was just a kid who thought he had the world by the tail, and now I was facing the infamous I.R.S. and all its doom.
I responded in the worst way: I hid from it and acted as if it never happened. Rather than face my problems head on, I continued to ignore the subsequent I.R.S. notices and then didn't even bother filing a return either of the next two years. Had I been thinking clearly, I would have realized that I needed to get a good attorney and try to settle my tax debt. I didn't actually owe this much money, as they only had considered my income and none of my expenses, plus much of the calculated penalty and interest charges were based upon incorrect income numbers.
Then my world ended. The I.R.S. filed multiple liens against me, and my checks from my job were now being garnished. In the few years that had passed in which I hid from my responsibility, the tax bill grew to well over half a million. I now had the added weight of knowing that I had further compounded the problem by not filing tax returns for several years. There were nights that I would sit alone wondering if I could ever see daylight. I was finally starting to come to my senses and realize that I had to put one foot in front of the other and make my way forward. I had no one to blame but myself.
When you're young and stupid, you don't realize that, well, you're young and stupid. You never realize that there are consequences for your actions, or for that matter that such actions can haunt you forever. It's kind of a right of passage to have to make your own mistakes in this world, kind of like having to touch a flame to really believe you will get burned. It took ten years of my life to finally be clear of all the problems I created for myself many years earlier. There's a line from one of my favorite movies, the Shawshank Redemption, that applies perfectly to how I feel today about how I acted earlier in my life:
"I want to talk to him (my younger self). I want to try and talk some sense to him. Tell him the way things are. But I can't. That kid's long gone. This old man is all that's left."
That's the funny (and kind of sad) part about becoming older. The more you age, the less people tend to listen to you, even though the voice of wisdom can be profound.
So, now to the ethics issues and how they are so much more important than what many believe. We live in a world quite different from what it was over two decades ago when I was a young man. If you made a mistake back then, it wasn't instantly communicated to the free world for all to see and pass judgment upon you. You HAVE to consider how your actions today can affect your options for tomorrow and the next day. But this is NOT the reason you need to have ethics and be of good character. Many of you read one of Rizens' articles that talked about making bad calls even though in your heart you sensed you were beaten. The problem with ethics is that there is no such thing as pot odds, no such thing as immediate payoffs. Most of the time, doing the right thing has purely implied odds, where the payoff is that you gain long term credibility and righteousness in your soul. Furthermore, even though we may rationalize making poor decisions, not too deep down we know in our hearts that we are making the wrong decision. It eats away at your soul when you do the wrong thing, and over time it can really beat you down.
I certainly can't take credit for establishing the standards for ethics and character. About the only thing I can take credit for is that I made a ton of mistakes, and I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to rebuild my life. There are numerous articles on the web about this, but let's try to get a basic description of how good ethics and character can lead to a good life, while a lack of it can lead down the wrong road.
Some of you ask me why I bother to openly take stands on certain things, even when I know that by expressing these opinions I will alienate many members of the community who feel I am patronizing them. It's a fair question with a simple answer. I owe. We all have milestones in our life that mark our coming of age or the significant event that marks the point when the lightbulbs seemed to to go on in our heads. For me that was when my children were born. Many of you know the story; my twins were premature, and my little boy developed numerous complications. All is fine and well now, but as any parent will tell you, from the minute your children are born, a miraculous change overcomes you, and you automatically put your children first. The fact that my babies had to overcome health issues early made us that much more appreciative of when we finally had them both at home.
Well, here's the funny thing. It wasn't just the pure intrinsic fact that we had two babies added into the family that was the blessing; we were also blessed with a better appreciation for people in general. I have been cynical and distrusting most of my life. Maybe because I had a rough childhood, maybe I was dropped on my head at birth, but for whatever reason, I have not been very "social," so to speak. When we went through the many difficulties with Brayden, EVERY day was gut wrenching, so much so that it was overwhelming. I was forced to have to allow outside people into my world: doctors, nurses, family, friends, etc., and I couldn't hide the fact that I was in a shear state of weakness. I'm convinced that I am a much different person now as a result of this forced interaction with other human beings. Poker had kind of hermitized me, and I was not a very happy person. Having our children saved me from that reclusive lifestyle and opened me back up to enjoying other people.
Less than a month after we finally got Brayden home, Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. I had several family members lose everything, but all told our family was spared any loss other than physical possessions. I know there are so many horror stories about post Katrina in New Orleans, but there is also so much evidence of the resiliency of people in overcoming disasters. You just really can't comprehend what it is like to have hundreds of thousands of people who basically lost everything having to start completely over, finding new jobs, new homes, and new schools. Close your eyes and picture everything that you have in your life, every possession and every detail, and now imagine what it would be like if I shipped you to another city and told you to start from scratch, and that there is nothing left of where you came from. In the two years that have passed since Katrina, I have seen firsthand how an entire infrastructure of a community does what it has to in order to absorb countless thousands of people. It has created a lot of complex issues for Baton Rouge and the surrounding areas, but everyone is adapting extremely well overall.
How do all of these tales of woe tie into ethics? Simple. We are in fact responsible for not just ourselves, but also our neighbors. We can't just make decisions based purely on how they will benefit ourselves, but moreover we HAVE to consider the consequences for others. In the end, how we interact with and treat others is part of how we define the human condition, the very justification of our existence, and it is what encompasses and composes the very core of our souls.
So now you know that I was blessed to be able to turn my life around and be on solid ground. You have all heard the expression, "feel comfortable in your own skin." For me that rings true. I am very confident in who I am and what my life is about. One week at church our pastor challenged us to find an area of need that in which we could help others. It was at this point that I made the decision to try to do what I could for those that were following the path of being a poker player. It is a road that I have been down, and one that I feel is littered with pitfalls if you let it consume you.
If you read Green Plastic's article about when he played at the WSOP, it was hard to ignore his perception that so many of the long time touring live pros are basically miserable people. I agree with him. I only toured for about 6 months, but in that short time I definitely felt like the majority of those that I encountered when playing live were leading an unhappy existence. You can almost feel the void that is in their lives. It was an easy decision for me to quit playing professionally. I had two newborns, I could make good money playing mostly online, and I had the ability to have a good income from a corporate job.
(For the record, I think GP is wise beyond his years, as he always seems to recognize and accept things for what they are instead of trying to make things be what he wants them to be.)
The same choice that I had can be much more difficult for young, up and coming players. They have the luxury of still having time to figure out their lives, and most have no added responsibilities such as having to support a family. In my opinion, the major hurdle they will cross is when they have to face the adversity that will certainly will come their way, though it will come more quickly to some than to others. Having a strong ethical foundation can carry you through the toughest of times.
I implore the better players to not patronize or speak down to players of lesser ability. You are playing a game, and you're blessed to be talented and live in a time where you can use your talents for financial gain and all the fame and exposure that comes from success. I can tell you with near certainty that in a couple of years there will be a new influx of players, who all think they are superstars, and invariably some of them will make insane posts such as "Waco is horrible at poker," or "Imperium is overrated, etc." It's going to happen, as I have seen the cycle happen several times now in just over four years. What goes around comes around, and Karma is most certainly waiting to snap you off at the knees.
So for the million dollar question, why do we want to have ethics and be of good character?
Here are some of the notes I wrote down from a sermon I recently attended:
* You want to be ethical and of good character because it leads to success for yourself and for those around you. When your reputation is that of a person of high ethical standards and good moral character, it communicates to others in a manner that is beneficial to you.
*Good character communicates consistency to others that who you say you are and how you act are one and the same.
*Good character communicates influence. When you are understood to have integrity, others no longer need assurance that your words are truthful.
*Good character communicates longevity. There is an old wise saying that states that "the only thing that walks back from a funeral is a man's character."
*Good character communicates to others that you make wise choices.
What are the character flaws that hinder success?
1) Impulses to give up before trying
2) Inability to handle adversity and/or face challenges
3) Settling for mediocrity
4) Shirking the problem - Avoiding the question of what is the problem and how do I solve it?
5) Doing the minimum
6) Avoiding taking action
How can I develop character?
A.) Don't give into adversity
B.) Remember the 3 R's.
- Be Responsible
- Do the Right thing
- Respect yourself
C.) Take control of your life
I hope this article is helpful in some way to those that play the game we all love.