If you’re looking for a little wisdom around this time of year, Mark DeMoss, president of the p.r. firm, the DeMoss Group, based in Atlanta, Georgia, may have just the reflection for you. DeMoss (son of the late Arthur S. DeMoss), is author of The Little Red Book of Wisdom, a collection of fundamentals he primarily wrote down for his children to have. The book serves as an ode to faith and family life, an efficient business-management guide, and a little red reminder for anyone who is prone to working too hard.
In a pre-Christmas interview with National Review Online, DeMoss talked about the book, politics, and other important things.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: What makes you an expert on wisdom?
Mark DeMoss: Well, I’m really not an expert on wisdom; I’d like to think of myself as a student of wisdom and someone who has been blessed to spend much of my life around wise people. I suggest in the Preface that wisdom is a journey, not a destination, and that I’m still on that journey.
Lopez: Why should I walk away from my computer right now?
DeMoss: I maintain that computers and related technology such as Blackberries, while tremendously convenient, are also robbing us of time to think, to converse, to study, and so on. I use all of the latest technology but also intentionally spend dedicated blocks of time working at a table in my office, without a computer or Blackberry in reach. I write, think, read, and plan.
Lopez: What does it mean to “live deliberately”? If one wanted to start tomorrow, how would he?
DeMoss: By this I am referring more to a clear sense of purpose than being a good organizer or scheduler.By knowing what my purpose is generally I can make easy decisions about how I spend my time, what I say ‘no’ to, and so on.
Lopez: What’s so special about integrity? And how do you exude it at work, at play, on the campaign trail?
DeMoss: It is everything. Since the word literally means “completeness,” I don’t believe one can have “a lot of integrity,” as we often say about someone — either we have it or we don’t; and once it is broken it is never fully restored. In my business of PR our integrity often means telling a client or potential client something so transparent it results in lost business. It should steer everything I do regardless of where I am. I am not, by the way, “holier than thou,” but must work on this constantly.
Lopez: You love sports. Does baseball have any integrity after the Mitchell report?
DeMoss: Baseball’s integrity has certainly been breached and will likely never be viewed in quite the same way. This case presents a good example also of how a default in integrity rarely, if ever only affects one person — it affects innocent players in this case, or wives or children or co-workers or friends.
Lopez: What is it about “good judgment” that translates into power?
DeMoss: That’s a good question. I think good judgment offers advantages in clear thinking, decision-making and overall behavior; all of which certainly factor into power.
Lopez: Why do you recommend a midnight curfew for adults?
DeMoss: After staying out late one night while still in college, my oldest sister gave me this wise counsel: she said “noting good happens after midnight; and often times, bad things happen.” I’ve never forgotten it. Look in any newspaper on any given day and read accounts of various terrible crimes; invariably the time of the incident will be in the wee hours of the morning. I just think this is a common sense practice for people of any age.
Lopez: You talk about personal ownership being temporary — you learned this as a child when your house burned down. You say that “To the degree that we cannot accept it, our possessions own us.” As we all buy more possessions for our loved ones around now (and get more), how do you drive that home? What’s a healthy approach to Christmas shopping/giving/receiving?
DeMoss: I have been blessed financially in amazing ways and well beyond anything I deserve. But I maintain a perspective that constantly reminds me that God really owns all of it and can take it away at any time (remember Katrina?). So I enjoy owning nice things but don’t let nice things own me. I suppose Christmas gift-giving is about balance and thoughtfulness and effort and creativity often exceed price in impact of a gift.
Lopez: Speaking of Christmas, now that I’ve bought the office Christmas party booze … why do you recommend no drinking? What’s wrong with wine at dinner?
DeMoss: For most of my life I have heard and read moral and religious arguments against drinking alcohol. I decided to approach this subject from a wisdom perspective instead, asking if it isn’t the better part of wisdom to choose not to drink. I do not condemn those who drink but since I don’t know my physiological predisposition toward alcoholism I feel the wisest course of action for me is not to test it. Alcohol has wrecked countless lives and caused immeasurable harm to society and in my book I decided to give a toast to “not drinking at all.”
Lopez: You quote a line, “You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.” What’s your strategy for strategic people meeting and book reading?
DeMoss: I don’t really have a strategy for people meeting and book reading, other than to place importance on reading. In my life I can trace the significance of any number of people I have met who have helped to shape who and what I am and it is exciting to see which new people enter my life each year. I suppose this is orchestrated more by God than by me.
Lopez: What makes the Bible “the greatest business textbook”?
DeMoss: Even more specifically, I think the Old Testament book of Proverbs is the greatest wisdom textbook ever written. It was largely written by King Solomon, widely regarded as the wisest man who ever lived (and probably the richest). This 31-chapter book doles out wisdom about money, business, work ethic, lending, relationships, cheating, alcohol, judgment, sex, planning, dealing with enemies, and so on. I have often said even if a person wasn’t a Christian or religious their life and business would be better if they only read this book of Proverbs. I have read a chapter a day for half my life, meaning I’ve read the entire book through about 250 times. I still find new insights almost every week.
Lopez: Is your book just for Christians? You devote a bit to Christ, especially at the end.
DeMoss: No; I think that virtually anyone from high school age and up, male or female, church attender or not, employer or employee, rich or poor, will find at least a couple of chapters connect with them in a special way. Hundreds of people have written me affirming this to be the case. I do end the book presenting a case for what I believe is the wisest decision anyone can ever make — the decision to live their life with God rather than without.
Lopez: On the subject of integrity, you write that it is “wise” to avoid “even a hint of indiscretion.” You go as far to make sure that when attending out-of-office meetings with female colleagues, you’d hail two cabs, rent two cars. And don’t you sometimes just have to close the door when meeting with a colleague of the opposite sex? How do you talk about salaries or other sensitive issues? Isn’t your policy overcautious — even silly — for adults?
DeMoss: I address this issue from a wisdom perspective too, rather than a moralistic one. I intentionally established barriers in my life to protect me from any relationship with a woman that would jeopardize my relationship with my wife (of 20 years next March). So I avoid being alone with a woman not my wife, even in my office. My door will never be fully closed when meeting with a woman and if the subject is sensitive I just talk more quietly.
This practice has another benefit. It helps to insulate me against a false accusation by a woman. For example, if I fired a female employee and she leveled charges of inappropriate advances toward her, I would have an office full of women backing me and calling her a liar. I like that kind of protection. Yes, this is arguably overcautious, but no, I don’t think it’s silly. My wife appreciates it and my employees respect it.
Lopez: Besides all of mine, what’s the best question you heard asked today?
DeMoss: I’ve been working alone so far today so I haven’t entertained any (but I like your question).
Lopez: You advise “I don’t know” can be a good answer. We’re coming upon our first presidential caucus shortly now. Surely you don’t include presidential candidates in your advice.
DeMoss: I think saying “I don’t know” would even serve presidential candidates well on occasion — particularly when they don’t know.
Lopez: You’ve endorsed Romney? Why Romney?
DeMoss: I believe Mitt Romney is the most qualified person to run for president from either party in my lifetime (I’m 45). That’s not some talking point (in fact, I’m not sure I’ve heard the campaign say this), I’ve analyzed it. I don’t know of any other example of three stellar careers in one candidate: business, Olympic Games, and government.
I went to see him in September 2006 and told him I wanted to help him, but that he couldn’t pay me or my firm, “now or ever.” I’m impressed with his character, values, intellect, and vision. He approaches problems fundamentally different than government-entrenched people do and I like that.
Lopez: Is that hard for an evangelical to do?
DeMoss: It was not hard for me. I determined that I am more interested that a candidate share my values than that he/she share my theology. I also concluded that as a conservative, evangelical Southern Baptist I have more in common with most Mormons than I do with a liberal Southern Baptist. (Jimmy Cater, Bill Clinton and Al Gore are all Southern Baptists.) I’m looking for similar values and exceptional competence and Mitt Romney possesses both.
Lopez: Does he have good judgment and integrity? Some certainly question that he does.
DeMoss: Yes, I think he does. One may disagree with his positions but I believe he is absolutely a man of integrity and good judgment — he has proven it in business and in every stage of his life. If a man’s family is an indicator of character and judgment and integrity, Mitt Romney has been a model many of us could proudly emulate.
Lopez: Do you have an opinion of Mike Huckabee’s Christmas ad and general approach?
DeMoss: I don’t have a problem with a Christmas ad, and actually appreciate hearing someone say “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays.” My only problem would be using such an ad selectively, running it in Iowa and South Carolina but not in New Hampshire or Michigan or Nevada, for example.
Lopez: What made you decide Joe Biden can’t listen?
DeMoss: I wrote a chapter titled “Shut Up and Listen!” It is simply about listening more than we talk. The reason I singled out Sen. Biden was because he was part of the congressional hearings to confirm Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court when I was writing this chapter and the New York Times ran a story tracking the actual number of words the senators used in their questioning compared with time allotted for Alito’s answers. Biden led the disparity, speaking about 4,000 words and leaving only a few minutes for a response.
Lopez: If there’s one lesson everyone reading your book can walk away with what would you like it to be?
DeMoss: God is the source of all wisdom and He offers it to any who ask for it. (That’s how Solomon got it.)