Jun 28, 2011

4 Life Lessons from Nero Wolfe

Once in awhile, either through reading a book or watching television/movies, we stumble across characters that are endearing and we’re pulled head over heels into their fictional world with all the bells and whistles and if we’re really lucky, become attached and wish we could actually visit these places and get to know the characters which inhabit them.

Nero Wolfe is one such person who comes to mind when I meditate on the subject.  For those not familiar with him, Wolfe is a fictional private investigator created by novelist Rex Stout, whose most distinguishing feature may be the fact that he ways between 300-400 pounds.  He is a portly man who goes about enjoying life within the confines of a luxurious brownstone house in 1930’s New York City, rarely leaving his residence, instead sending out his “confidential assistant,” or legman/crony/lackey as his critics would call him, Archie Goodwin.  Check out Wikipedia for more on Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin mysteries.

I’ve decided to start posting life lessons from fictional characters once in awhile and Nero Wolfe gets the premiering spotlight today with a few things to teach us about living it up.

Live on your own terms
No one knows this better than Wolfe.  He spends 99% percent of his time dwelling within his Manhattan brownstone, tending to a collection of over 10,000 orchids and plants, eating some of the finest cuisine in existence prepared by his butler/chef, Fritz and occasionally solving a mystery when he finds an interesting case or is running out of money to fund his extravagant lifestyle.  What’s more, each day is the same as the last as Wolfe follows a well-regimented schedule in which I suspect the highlight is tending to his orchids for 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the afternoon.  It is rare for him to change or break this schedule and even rarer for Wolfe to actually leave his home, delegating all detective work beyond critical thinking and strategy to Archie Goodwin and several hired associates.  We’ve all heard about living a life that makes you happy, but Wolfe has managed to elevate the idea to both exact science and art form.

Say what is required
It’s easy for one to lose track of what they’re saying during a conversation and sometimes we speak too much or reveal more than was intended about ourselves or a subject, but whether he’s dealing with the hot-headed Police Inspector Cramer, a cold-blooded murderer or a fussy client, Nero Wolfe’s words are chosen carefully and he speaks no more than is required, revealing only what he purposefully chooses.  That doesn’t mean he’s not a fan of fanciful vocabulary or language, but he uses words carefully and for maximum effect.  One interesting detail to note is that he actually keeps an open dictionary on a stand in one corner of his office for reference.  If that’s not an appreciation for the spoken or written word, what is?

Trust those around you
I’m not quite sure if Wolfe has what we would call conventional friends, but in a dangerous business like his, knowing who to trust is imperative.  Besides having absolute trust and faith in Archie Goodwin, Wolfe relies heavily on a number of other detectives and individuals including his butler/chef, Fritz and Saul Panzer, a private investigator with skills similar to Archie’s.  What’s more, his trust is built not just on emotional preference, but a person’s ability to deliver some sort of tangible, practical result.  Wolfe may not be one for traditional friendships, but when it comes to trust, he’s a professional judge of character.

Appreciate Food
As I said before, Wolfe enjoys some of the finest cuisine around courtesy of his butler/chef, Fritz and there’s a good reason why the man weighs between 300-400 pounds.  He loves his food!  So much so, that he refuses to be interrupted or discuss business while dining.  I have no idea what some of that stuff on his plate is, but if you watch the A&E TV show version, you’ll know what I mean.  Wow!  Does it look good!  Good food is one thing Wolfe and I can definitely find common ground on.

Are you drawn to any fictional characters in particular?  What do you like about them?  Are there any life lessons one could learn from them?