Good Fortune Deceives, but Bad Fortune Enlightens

By Jon Miller Updated on May 22nd, 2017

Previously we made an analogy between King Pyrrhus and Toyota’s cost of victory in the battle for sales volume. I recommend the Classics once again as a source of wisdom for leaders. In the most challenging of times they could benefit from reading Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius. He was a Roman aristocrat who lived in the 6th century and wrote The Consolation of Philosophy from prison while awaiting execution after suffering a significant turn for the worse in wheel of fortune. In the form of a discourse with the lady Philosophy, Boethius wrote:

What I want to say is a paradox, and so I am hardly able to put it into words. For bad fortune, I think, is more use to a man than good fortune. Good fortune always seems to bring happiness, but deceives you with her smiles, whereas bad fortune is always truthful because by change she shows her true fickleness. Good fortune deceives, but bad fortune enlightens.

Do you think it is of small account that this harsh and terrible misfortune has revealed those friends whose hearts are loyal to you? She has shown you the friends whose smiles were true smiles, and those whose smiles were false; in deserting you Fortune has taken her friends with her and left those who are really yours.

So you are weeping over lost riches when you have really found the most precious of all riches – friend who are true friends.

These are timeless words. I could stop here and Boethius would have given us enough. But let’s make time for just a few more insights. In the closing lines of the Consolation, after some heady language meant to reconcile human free will with God’s foreknowledge of events, we are given through the words of Philosophy:

God receives this present mode of knowledge and vision of all things not from the issue of future things but from His own immediacy.

In English we have an expression “the customer is always right”. In Japanese they say “the customer is a god”. Not to suggest that the customer is in fact divine, but in matters of judgment of the quality services rendered by the provider, the customer possesses this “mode of knowledge and vision” from their immediacy.

Boethius then goes on to write that prayers and efforts made with virtuous intent are bound to be answered because God is present in the moment.

Avoid vice, therefore, and cultivate virtue; lift up your mind to the right kind of hope, and put forth humble prayers on high. A great necessity is laid upon you, if you will be honest with yourself, a great necessity to be good, since you live in the sight of a judge who sees all things.

These words can be reminders to us and to our leaders. We must work on the right things at this moment, yet keep our hopes and intentions focused on on virtuous long-term goals. All the while, we must remember that the our customers both internal and end-user are with us in their immediacy, giving and withdrawing their currency of trust. Fortune and her friends may come and go, but it is up to each of us to make and care for those friends who are truly ours.

  1. John Santomer

    June 9, 2010 - 1:46 am

    Dear Jon, Yes, trying times do bring out the best in us. Only under extreme pressures are diamonds created and shines in its full splendor…We learn to appreciate in these difficult times what we tend to overlook during our days of bounties. It’s a real eye opener.

Have something to say?

Leave your comment and let's talk!

Start your Lean & Six Sigma training today.