Thinking Rationally

March 29, 2024
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This past week the world lost 2 giants, Senator Joseph Lieberman, and Dr. Daniel Kahneman.   I knew Dr. Kahneman through his work and Michael Lewis’ “The Undoing Project”, and I knew Senator Lieberman personally.  In the early 80’s, he married a woman from the Bronx, where I lived then, and when he visited, sat next to me in Synagogue.   We often spoke.  Joe and Dr. Kahneman led lives that should serve as examples.  Examination of their contributions can teach us a great deal.

Despite their different backgrounds and fields of expertise, they shared several similarities in their approach to life.  Both were pragmatists at heart. Lieberman, as a Senator and founder of the No Labels Party, was known for his practical, results-oriented approach to governance. He prioritized finding solutions that could garner bipartisan support and make tangible improvements in people’s lives. Similarly, Kahneman approached his research in psychology and economics with a pragmatic mindset, seeking to understand real-world decision-making processes and how they could be improved.

Both individuals recognized the importance of collaboration in achieving their goals. Lieberman worked across party lines, seeking common ground with colleagues across the isle like John McCain and Lindsey Graham to advance legislative agendas. Likewise, Kahneman often collaborated with other researchers such as Amos Tversky and practitioners from diverse fields to further his understanding of human behavior and decision-making.

They both valued evidence-based approaches to problem-solving. Lieberman relied on data and research to inform his policy proposals and decision-making as a Senator. He was able to cite data to support his position on any issue.  Similarly, Kahneman’s work in behavioral economics was grounded in empirical research, using experiments and observations to uncover patterns in human decision-making.  It was that approach to decision-making that won him the Nobel Prize in Economics.

Both men demonstrated a willingness to adapt and evolve in response to new challenges and information. Lieberman’s political career spanned decades, during which he navigated shifting political landscapes and adapted his strategies accordingly.  He went from being a Democrat to Independent and eventually formed a third party, the No Labels Party.Kahneman’s research also evolved over time as he uncovered new insights into human behavior and decision-making processes.

Ultimately, both Lieberman and Kahneman shared a common focus on making a positive impact in the world. Whether through policy reform or scientific discovery, they were driven by a desire to improve society and enhance human welfare.

What impressed me most when speaking with Joe was how he listened and answered questions.  One could see the focus he had on the question.  He looked you in the eyes and  took time to process and respond in a soft-spoken, measured and often humorous manner.  His intellect was always in play but never used as a cudgel.

In my practice-life, Dr. Kahneman’s work added to the work of Dr. Robert Cialdini, whose book “Influence” also inspired me to create communication systems within my practice that would encourage people to make the best decisions for their health. The principles of persuasion as illuminated by these men were important factors in the practice’s success, a topic that I’m now writing  about with other coaches in the upcoming book “Influence in Action.”

Joseph Lieberman and Daniel Kahneman exemplified a shared approach to life characterized by pragmatism, collaboration, evidence-based reasoning, adaptability, and a commitment to making a meaningful difference in the world.  We could use more people like them.  They will be missed and hopefully, remembered not only for their contributions but the ways in which they set about making a difference.

Joe was also a man of morals and conviction.  In 1998, still a Democrat, he got up on the Senate floor to condemn President Clinton’s sexual escapades and marital infidelity, which he saw as an affront to the office of the Presidency, tarnishing the Democratic movement, was immoral, deceitful, and damaging to the country.  You could tell that though he felt personally betrayed, it was the impact on the country that motivated him to call for a censure.

Dr. Kahneman spent his academic life proving that people were not rational actors.  I’m not sure he ever met Joe Lieberman.

I am proud to have known Joe, the Mensch, the uber-rational actor, the consummate, thinking American.

May your Memory continue to be a Blessing.


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Dr. Michael Goldberg is one of the leading educators on dental practice management in the United States.

Michael ran and sold a prestigious group practice in Manhattan and has been on Faculty at Columbia University and New York-Presbyterian Medical Center for 30 years including Director of the GPR program and Director of the course on Practice Management.

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