I enjoy listening to Rabbi Daniel Lapin‘s podcasts. He focuses on revealing to his listeners how the world really works. And, as you can imagine, with an emphasis on not just how the world works but on how it really works, there’s often no room for political correctness on his podcasts. One of his recent ones was on the Afghanistan debacle. At a time when the whole world came down harshly on the American president for poorly handling the pull out of his troops and citizens from Afghanistan, Rabbi Lapin seized the opportunity to draw out, and present to his listeners 10 life lessons from the whole fiasco in his August 21, 2021 podcast: What The Afghani Fiasco Teaches About Your Business, Family, and Life.
I particularly liked 5 of the 10 lessons and decided to share them with my readers. If you’d like to hear the rest for yourself, you may head over to his podcast but for now, here are 5 life lessons we can immediately apply to our lives in order to better operate in the real world.
Always Clearly Define Your Objectives
The main problem with the war in Afghanistan was that, 20 years ago, the objective wasn’t clearly defined. It was declared the “war on terror” and the problem with that is nobody knows who Mr. Terror is. So it was hard to tell when the enemy was defeated, when the war was won, and when it was time to pull out of the country. Instead, the US troops remained there and started pursuing non-military objectives like democratizing the country, pushing for gender equality and so on. This is the same problem with other kinds of vague wars like the “war on drugs” and “war on poverty.” Nobody knows who Mr. Drugs and Mr. Poverty are, so it’s hard to tell if or when they are defeated. Such wars tend to last almost forever.
We can draw a lesson from this. Instead of saying things like “from now on, I’m going to be saving,” or “I’ll be eating better,” or “I’m going to lose weight this year,” we should clearly define how much money we are going to save monthly, what quantity and type of food we’re going to eliminate or incorporate, and how many kilos we’re aiming to lose. Quantifying our objectives makes the path to victory much easier as what cannot be measured cannot be managed, just as an enemy not clearly identified can never be taken out.
Money Flung At a Problem Without a Plan is Wasted Money
The US spent $2trillion in Afghanistan for 20 years and largely achieved nothing. In fact, they’re back to square one — Taliban control. This can only happen when you have excess change to spare. When a problem arises, your first instinct is to throw money at it to make it go away. That’s not a strategic way to handle finances.
In our lives, problems arise all the time and once we feel like we have enough money lying around, our first instinct is to throw money at our problems. So instead of trying to fix that broken appliance at home, we go buy a new one. Instead of having the patience to cook a healthy meal, we go get some fast food. Instead of seeking to repair the relationship with our neighbours, we go rent another house in a new neighbourhood. Throwing money at our problems doesn’t allow much for critical thinking and solution-seeking. It just encourages us to be lazy thinkers and consumers incapable of producing anything. Our first instinct should be to solve our problems without getting money involved. Hard to do, but very satisfying and self-developing!
Always Choose Allies of Good Character
The US thought they had good allies in Afghani leaders like Ashraf Ghani and Harmid Karzai; people whom they thought would never let them down. But the exact opposite happened.
In our lives, we should be mindful of those we ally with; those with whom we are equally yoked. It doesn’t make sense to identify someone as a habitual liar or a let-down and then still go ahead and form close friendships with them just because they are family or you’ve known them from high school or something equally sentimental. Those we bring into our lives, our children’s lives, our family tables, to become close companions and confidantes, should be those whom we can trust, those who have a track record of keeping their word and not letting us down. Doing otherwise is foolish especially if we’re already privy to the kind of character they possess.
Use Your Resources the Right Way
Using the right tool for the right job is very important. Abraham Maslow rightly said “to the man who only has a hammer, everything he encounters begins to look like a nail.” So we must acquire new skills and resources and, more importantly, deploy them correctly.
America forgot that the purpose of a military is to blow up things, destroy the enemy and bring destruction to their territory. That’s why the troops they sent to Afghanistan started focusing on ‘nation-building’; installing a democracy, fighting for women’s rights, building classrooms for little children, and other cute little things that soldiers just don’t do. And so money was being wasted and fine troops were being frustrated.
This can happen in our lives, especially in business. It will always frustrate your workers if you give them tasks that were never listed in their job description. You would be wasting good manpower and ultimately driving them away from your company. Also, doing the right things at the right time — and not procrastinating — is a very good way to manage our limited time resource and avoid undue personal frustrations.
Never Fall Prey to the ‘Sunken Cost’ Fallacy
Sometimes, instead of pulling out of something that’s clearly not working, we convince ourselves that since we’re in so deep already, we might as well keep going. This was what the entire twenty year venture into Afghanistan looked like. At some point, the US must have realised that the undefined mission was a futile one. But three presidents later, they were still there.
We may have friendships and relationships like that. So many years may have gone by with this terrible friend who never has your back but, oh well, we’ve been friends forever so we might as well just stay friends to the end. Five years have been wasted with that boy who refuses to propose to you but you’ve invested so much in the relationship that it’s now too hard to let go.
We must be able to cut our losses sometimes. No need trudging along an endless dark tunnel. It’s not helpful even to those around us. We must know when to pull out, know when it’s not working, try to be objective and always tell ourselves the truth.
So, there you go! Five of the ten life lessons from the US’ venture into Afghanistan. I never expected to glean personal life lessons from world affairs, but this was pretty good. I hope they are of great help to you too and, again, if you want to know what the other five lessons were, head over to Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s Podcast.