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Transcription of interview with Benjamin Zander on December 10, 2012.
Douglas Goldstein, CFP®, Financial Planner & Investment Advisor
Benjamin Zander is an American British conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra as well
as a guest conductor all around
the world. He wrote the book called The Art of Possibility together with Rosamund Zander.
Douglas Goldstein, financial planner & investment advisor, interviewed Zander on Arutz Sheva
Douglas Goldstein: You wrote the book called The Art of Possibility and there’s been
a lot of talk all over about how Ben Zander thinks possibility and so optimistic. Aren’t
Benjamin Zander: It’s very easily misunderstood. Optimism is a discipline. It’s not just
a good feeling. That’s something else and people get very confused about it. To be optimistic
is always to look at the bright side as what they say. I consider optimism to be a very
rigorous discipline. It’s the discipline of distinguishing between the language that
we use which pulls us down and the language we use which creates a new opening, a new
awareness and a new set of options and possibilities. It’s a discipline that we all can master
but few of us do master it.
The classic story that I always love to tell is of two shoe salesmen who went to Africa
in the 1900s to see if they can sell shoes. They both sent telegrams back to Manchester.
One of them writes, “Situation helpless, they don’t wear shoes” and the other one
sent a telegram back saying, “Glorious opportunity, they don’t have any shoes here.” Now both
of them are looking at the same circumstances and what is different is what they say about
it and it’s a very disciplined way of looking at the world which looks for glorious opportunity.
That doesn’t mean one is silly about it and simply says everything is lovely because
clearly that’s not the case and when you say there are limits, there’s no limit to
the possibility that one can see.
There’s a really lovely story which is my favorite example of this. My father was a
victim of holocaust, he lost everything he had including eight members of his family
and his mother in the holocaust in Auschwitz and he came to England having lost his home,
his belongings, his money and his profession since he was a lawyer in Germany, couldn’t
practice that in England. Now he comes to England with four children and then a wife
and had to support all that and then he was interned. They were interned on what they
called the enemy aliens in the Isle of Man. He was with 2000 men in similar circumstances.
They had devastating losses in their lives and tremendous fear. He was in Paris and the
sense of fear and anxiety must be absolutely overwhelming and in fact, he said some of
the inmates of that internment camp would just stare at the barbwire fence all day in
a kind of catatonic state. He looked around and he said, “There are a lot of intelligent
people here. We should have a university” and so they started university in that camp
with 40 classes running regularly with no books, pencils or chalkboards or any means
other than human beings talking to each other and now that I called the rigorous discipline
of possibility. In other words, it’s very easy to fall into this stage of mind of looking
at how black and hopeless and terrible things are and that’s very different from positive
thinking. If he’d gone around telling everybody how wonderful it was, they would have smashed
him in the face. He said let’s have a university and that became a reality and a possibility
for people to live into to a very high degree and in fact, there were 40 classes and that
they were running regularly and they weren’t stopped by the fact that there were no books
to refer to and no pencils to write on. They were just talking to each other.
Douglas Goldstein: How does someone develope that?
Benjamin Zander: It’s a lifetime work and that’s why our book is called The Art of
Possibility because to become a very fine violinist, you have to practice and practice
and do more practice and it’s exactly the same with possibility thinking. It doesn’t
happen like a nice day. It is a rigorous discipline. I keep coming back to that because we always
have a choice that every moment of everyday, we have a choice between, “Situation helpless,
they don’t wear shoes” and “Glorious opportunity, they don’t have any shoes yet.”
That choice of distinction exists in every moment of everyday and it become part of our
existence and we’re constantly faced with that choice even whether we smile at the person
who is walking down the street towards us or the way we say hello to somebody or the
way we react to news and we always have that choice.
Another of my father’s wonderful story of the man who goes to the rabbi and he says,
“Rabbi, you told us a prayer, something with praise” and the Rabbi says, “Yes,
it goes like this: When you have some good news, you thank the lord and when you have
some bad news, you praise the lord.” “Oh yes, that’s right rabbi, I remember, but
rabbi how actually do you know which is the good news and which is the bad news?” and
the rabbi says, “You’re wise my son. So just to be on the safe side, always thank
It’s a great story because we always make up our mind in the 24-hour news cycle that
we know immediately whether something is good news or bad news and actually we don’t know.
It’s too early to judge whether it’s good news or bad news so the idea of always thanking
the lord is a wise-mode because what one does in that state of mind whether one believes
in the lord or not is to be opened to the possibility that is available at that moment
which one might not see and the more energy one puts into despair, anxiety, pressure or
fear, the less likely the brain will be able to come up with the idea of the new university.
In order to be able to live fully in possibility, the brain has to be clear of all those detrimental
forces which pull us down like fear, anxiety, pressure, competition and all the things that
occupy our minds.
Douglas Goldstein: Another thing that you talk about a great deal is success and the
concern that people have with grading and everything has to be measured. In the financial
field, there’s a bottom line here which is either you can pay the bills every month
or you can’t. That’s the measure of success. How do you tell people don’t measure really
Benjamin Zander: Your job is not to make money. Your job is to create safety and freedom of
mind and possibility for people in their old age so that they have the freedom to enjoy
their life to fulfill their dreams, to look after their grandchildren and all those things.
So that’s the vision of your work. The means that you have towards is you come up with
strategies for enabling people to fulfill that dream and that’s very worthy and very
uplifting visionary work and that gets you up in the morning because you know that you
feel effective in doing what you do. You will provide that sense of peace of mind which
is essential for people particularly if they get old and face illness and other limitations
so that gets you up in the morning. The thing that gets you up in the morning and gets you
active is that vision that pulls you forward. You live into the vision of it providing that
safety and that joy to people in the later years and that’s a wonderful vision to have
for your life. You then come up with competencies and strategies and methods of doing that effectively
and you get as good as you can at that and you become an expert. You’re very good at
it and you have an understanding of the market and how money works and so on. People will
come to you more frequently because your effectiveness in the strategies which lead to the fulfillment
of your vision.
If there’s a lot of failure inevitably in that model because the moment you have success,
you have also failure, they go together like the front of the hand and the back of the
hand. The trick for you is to be lighthearted about the failures so that you can focus your
attention on having more successes. The way to be lighthearted is to say as I always teach
my student when they make a mistake to throw their hands up in the air and say how fascinating.
The value of that rather than the usual despair we get into because despair like all these
other forces that bring us down, the downward spiral thinking, it clutters the mind and
disable our capacities. What we need is our full capacity, always close to our full capacities
as we human beings can get.
If you have a failure and you throw your hands up and say how fascinating, the next question
is, “What went wrong, what did I do, what can I do better the next time and how can
I learn from this experience?” The secret is the enthusiasm and if I may remind you
the very word enthusiasm contains the word “theo” which means God. To be enthusiastic
means to be full of god, whatever that means to you, I’m not a believer myself so I don’t
think in terms of old man with a beard, I think of the life force which in our book
called The Art of Possibilities. That is to be full of possibility is that sacred state
of being fully available to whatever life offers without the detriment in the pull of
despair, anguish, fear and when the fear of failure which is so much of people’s heart.
I diminish that element in the students that I work with by giving them an A grade in the
very first class before they get started and then what I do is I asked them to write a
letter in the very first two weeks of the year in which they describe who they will
become by the following day when the class ends. Then the person I teach is the person
that they describe in that letter rather than the fearful, anxious, competitive person who
I have sit in front of me and then the conversation between us changes and that is something we
can do to anybody. I dream of the time when instead of giving your next door neighbors
an F and the next door neighbors give the Israelis an F, there’s a conversation between
your neighbors which says it’s a privilege to share this land.
Douglas Goldstein: How can people follow your work?
Benjamin Zander: I’m very involved in Facebook and with all my students, they write in and
share their thoughts and white sheets as I called them. On the stand of every musician,
I leave a white sheet for them to communicate and I put some of that on Facebook. You can
just go on that directly by going on www.benjaminzander.com. I have CDs in which I explain the music and
those are all available on Amazon.
Douglas Goldstein, CFP®, is the director of Profile Investment Services and the host
of the Goldstein on Gelt radio show (Monday nights at 7:00 PM on www.israelnationalradio.com.
He is a licensed financial professional both in the U.S. and Israel. Securities offered
through Portfolio Resources Group, Inc., Member FINRA, SIPC, MSRB, NFA, SIFMA. Accounts carried
by National Financial Services LLC. Member NYSE/SIPC, a Fidelity Investments company.
His book Building Wealth in Israel is available in bookstores, on the web, or can be ordered
at: www.profile-financial.com (02) 624-2788 or (03) 524-0942.
Disclaimer: This document is a transcription and/or an educational article. While it is
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information and should not be used as the sole basis for making financial decisions.
The opinions rendered herein are those of the guests, and not necessarily those of Douglas
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