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Yesterday I left off with…
This leads me to a bunch of interesting questions.
There are two major causes of suffering: avoidable and unavoidable. Avoidable suffering is human caused. Murder, theft, torture, selfishness, all the deep human flaws. If we asked God how come we have so much human cruelty he might answer, “Look in the mirror. It’s all on you. I gave you a mind and will to choose your response to any situation, and just look at you. After all, I taught you. The best you can do is assault a young woman. It breaks my heart.” There is no excuse for human-caused suffering. We choose to do it to each other. To willfully cause another to suffer is a monstrous human choice. We’re not God’s puppets. We own the society we’ve created.
Unavoidable suffering occurs as the result of the natural world and our own biology. There are earthquakes, floods and fires, and cancer and fatal accidents. Stuff happens. But what if life doesn’t matter in the way we think it does? What if the length of our life doesn’t matter at all, and what if unavoidable suffering happens to some to give the rest of us a chance to be compassionate? Compassionate service, especially to strangers, is one of the most noble of human acts. So the world and our bodies are frail so we can become agents of kindness and mercy to each other. Ridiculous? I wonder.
Of course I don’t know why the world is a dangerous and sometimes evil and unjust place. I do know that if we all got what we deserved, we would be “trained” like Sea World dolphins to be good because there’s a reward for it. If we got everything we prayed for, we all would be praying. If the only reason we chose to act nobly were a practical payoff, we’d have no authentic nobility. And yet, maybe that’s the real purpose of life. To act from our highest self when there is no payoff because it is pure oxygen for our deepest, enduring identity: to love and learn, give and grow—surely those are what give our life meaning.
Everyone must come to his or her own conclusion about life’s hard questions. For me there are things that over the years have become self-evident. First, life has genuine meaning. (To conclude that life is meaningless because we can’t figure it out may be the ultimate act of egotism.) Second, that love is real. (It is more than emotion or brain chemicals or DNA.) Third, our greatest growth as human beings comes through our chosen reactions to our own suffering and the suffering of others. Fourth, what’s really important is not what we think it is. (It’s not power, recognition, stuff, or the length of our lives.) Fifth, our human form is temporary. Our consciousness is not. (So be careful to choose your thoughts, feelings, and motives.) Sixth, perhaps our biggest fear is not that life doesn’t matter, but rather, that it does and that we are responsible.
I don’t expect you to agree with everything I have come to believe. I just appreciate you taking the time to listen.
American Dream Project
It’s been a rough few days. When I returned home from teaching a class on Corporate Social Responsibility I had a message waiting from my 24 year-old daughter. When I called her she told me that she had been sitting in her car reading in the busy parking lot of a major mall waiting to start work. Suddenly her door was opened and this fierce young man grabbed her hair and pulled her head toward his unzipped pants. She somehow twisted around and pumped her left leg into his stomach. Then like a powerful piston she re-cocked her leg and kicked it with all her power into his lower chest. He gasped and fell back against the car parked next to her. She started screaming the moment he grabbed her hair, but no one in the busy parking garage came to help. As her assailant ran off she called 911. The police arrested him the next day as he lurked in the same mall. My daughter is a sweetheart doing exactly what she was supposed to be doing. She didn’t deserve this. She’s also resilient. She’s okay.
So yesterday I read an editorial by author Michael Novak on his ideas about why a good God would allow so much human suffering. This one question is the core “disconnect” for most people with the Divine. The idea is if God is all-powerful and all loving this world makes no sense. The choice our minds and many agnostic writers give us is that either God is mean or disinterested, in which case we don’t want to know him let alone live with him in an afterlife. OR God just doesn’t exist and spiritual belief is a delusion. But are these our only choices?
Last night I finished a book titled The Scalpel and the Soul by Dr. Allan J. Hamilton. It’s the memoir of a Harvard trained brain surgeon documenting the experiences he’s had that led him to conclude that humans are primarily spiritual beings rather than biological ones. His most unusual chapter documents the case of a woman whose blood flow to her brain was cut off in order to repair an artery. In this delicate operation the patient was clinically dead. No brain waves for 20 minutes. When she was revived she had a clear recollection of the surgeons and nurses and their conversations while she was brain dead. All of this was captured real-time on video, so it’s not just a story. What happened was simply biologically impossible if we believe our brain is what creates consciousness. So, are we more than our biology?…Indeed.
As someone who’s had a heavy dose of years of prolonged suffering I have thought (and read) a lot about this problem of evil and misfortune. And here’s my current thinking. First of all, projecting my motives and worldview on all-powerful God is pretty weak. It’s what psychologists call “projection.” It means to judge another’s behavior by what our motives might be if we did whatever they are doing. This is painfully immature. Without direct discussion and deep insight we can’t know the motives of another person, let alone God. So to accuse him of being mean or even thoughtless because bad things happen to good people is, at a minimum, irrationally presumptuous. We’re just feebly guessing. Concluding that God can’t exist because a good God wouldn’t allow evil is a lot like a 3 year-old concluding that his mother hates him because he can’t eat candy whenever he wants. The 3 year-old doesn’t view the world in the same way his mother does, and one thing we can be sure of is that if God does exist we don’t see reality, purpose, time or suffering in the same way he does. So my conclusion is, I don’t know what God is thinking, but I am pretty sure it is wiser than what I would be thinking if I were in charge of the universe.
This leads me to a bunch of interesting questions…
Check back tomorrow for the interesting questions, and the six conclusions to life’s hard questions that have become self-evident over the years.
To visit American Dream Project’s homepage, click here.
My father was John Wayne. Not the actor. He was better than the actor. He was the ideal. He was a real cowboy. A rancher who road the range, mended fences, and drove cattle. He also graduated from Cal-Berkeley in 1940. He never wanted to be a cowboy, but we had a family ranch and he was the only son in an Italian family so ranching chose him. Dad was a naturally spiritual man. My first 4-year-old memories of him were kneeling at my bedside just as I pulled my covers up and praying his guts out for me and my brothers, sister and mom. Then he prayed for rain and finally to know what to do if it didn’t rain. Then he would smother me with kisses. His day-long bristly beard would rough my little boy skin, but it didn’t matter; I felt so safe being loved by such a strong man. My dad was a cowboy and nothing could be better.
Being a cattle rancher was a financial high-wire act. When I got older I realized that every year Dad borrowed the money to buy cattle so he could fatten them on the grass we needed the rain for. If the market price was right at the beginning of the summer he could sell the cattle, pay the bank, our taxes, and I would get back-to-school clothes in late August. If we didn’t get rain or the cattle market was down, we would keep the cattle another year, mom would sew patches on the inside of my pants and we would all pray a little harder. Dad never worked for anyone. He’d rather wrestle with the unpredictability of nature than conform to the “man”. He was a cowboy.
My mother was Katherine Hepburn. At least my dad thought so. Every afternoon at about 3 o’clock she’d take a bath and put on a dress and make-up and start dinner. Just before dinner he’d open the kitchen door wide and flash a big smile at all of us. Then he’d make a beeline to Mom and sweep her up in his arms and kiss her on the lips like a sailor home after a year at sea. This happened all the time. It was their love ritual. My brothers, sister, and I all looked away and made throw-up sounds but out of the corner of our eyes we saw genuine, passionate, loyal love expressed. Dad always told Mom how beautiful she was and how great her food tasted. He was wildly enthusiastic and mostly uncensored. One Thanksgiving during my first year of college he proclaimed to my mother at dinner, “If you weren’t such a great cook, I’d chain you to the bed!” My roommate spit his food out. But this was genuine dad. He always referred to sex as being healthy. Dad was completely unrehearsed, passionate, opinionated, and most of all an advocate for all of us. He knew who he was, what he believed, what he must do.
When I was 14, a down-on-his-luck drifter drove his beat-up station wagon up the ranch road. It was dusk and Dad went outside to meet him. I snuck out and watched through a shed door. The stranger was a rough looking character, and he threatened Dad. He said he would kill him and take what he wanted. Dad calmly asked him if he had any skills. The man said he sharpened knives. My heart was pumping faster than a squirrel dodging cars. Dad said we had lots of things that needed sharpening. He paid him $50 to sharpen our lawn mower and every kitchen knife we owned. He spent an hour talking to the man while he worked. Dad never said anything about it except that the man was “just doing the best he could.”
Well that’s the kind of man who raised me. I have no excuse. Dad really mattered to me. Throughout my life there have been so many times I asked myself, “What would Dad have done?” But today being a father, a real one, not just a biological one, is increasingly rare. According to the Center for Health Statistics, nearly 30% of white children, 50% of Hispanics, and 71% of black children are born out of wedlock. And today more than a quarter of our children have no male in their homes, father or not. This has all happened in one generation. And it’s not fair. 40% of single moms live in poverty. And being a child without an everyday father makes life much riskier. Risk of not finishing high school or college, becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol, becoming obese, suffering from chronic illness, going to prison, getting divorced, or even going bankrupt are all much more likely to happen to children who grow up without in-the-home fathers.
Is this the best society we can create? Being a father is a choice. It’s a sacred life long commitment. I have no excuse. I had a truly great father whose memory I strive to live up to. Being a male is a matter of chromosomes; being a man requires courage; being a father is an act of life-long integrity.
Our world needs fathers.
American Dream Project
To visit American Dream Project’s home page, click here.
The challenge is always the same. How do we survive and thrive under circumstances we do not control? Gas prices, debt, job insecurity and personal challenges such as illness, divorce or loneliness all can trigger prolonged, intense stress. And yes, stress makes us stupid. Stupider than an eight-year-old with a butane lighter. Brain research reveals that stress shuts down access to our creative problem solving and critical thinking centers of our brains. The result is that we can exaggerate feelings of helplessness, despair and rage. Stress triggers strong emotions that focus our attention on the regrets of the past, fear of the future or blame on others. But it’s all we see on TV or hear on the radio. All these emotions are self-destructive. Stress slays us in the face and gets our attention so what’s the solution?
Well, it begins with suspending our fears and frustrations. There are two movie theaters in our minds. One is showing the latest horror film of our lives and the other is a film festival of heroic tales (like Lord of the Rings) and romantic comedies (like Sleepless in Seattle). In our inner movies we are either the victim, getting slashed, squashed or shot, or we’re the hero whereby staying with our values and vision we transcend our challenges and pursue a life we both value and enjoy. We choose which movie to watch every waking minute. Our horror flick makes us stress crazy. Our epic journey inspires personal wisdom. But all of us must choose. But just willing ourselves to be positive and heroic is exhausting. A positive internal reaction to threatening external reality can seem insane. So how do we get the right movie of our life playing?
It requires more than will power. It happens when we change how we think, how we feel, and what we do. It requires one huge commitment. Are you ready? You must commit to really enjoy life as you are living it. Minute to minute enjoyment happens when you show up for every moment. You know your life has become an endless breathless sprint when your mind is constantly preoccupied and obsessed with personal fears or anger at things you do not control. When you’re sitting at dinner pretending to listen to your spouse but you’re actually having a second conversation in your mind, you are in attention deficit. When you’re home checking emails and your young child is telling you a story and you’re saying, “Uh, huh…I’m listening…Go on,” you’re only pretending. There is no such thing as true multi-tasking. Instead it’s called ping-pong focus. It is exhausting to play and never satisfying to any of the players. When your life is in your rhythm, you will be emotionally present for those whom you love. You will see your own feelings. You will savor beauty, taste your food, and laugh easily. You will even be alert in meetings. You will have new options and have more energy. And that will only happen when you pursue your authentic dream, using your most natural talents to contribute to a better future. Yours and others. Most of all it will only happen when you’re driven by love instead of fear.
None of this is unrealistic. In fact, it’s the most realistic way to live. When virtually all of your efforts are being invested in your real dreams, when you are using the gifts that create the most value, and when your prime motive is love, your anxiety for success, your mad panic for relief from stress begin to fade in an integrated life that offers long stretches of active contentment and deep emotional refuge to deal with the inevitable storms of disappointment and setback. It all happens when what really matters in life matters most to you. As soon as we focus our highest energy on creating a long-term life we both value and enjoy the challenges of making whatever changes we must will gradually melt in the light of our sustained vision.
I have seen many people make seemingly unbelievable changes to successfully live their dream life. I’ve seen a single mother, high school drop-out get a Master’s degree and become a high school principal. I’ve seen a multi-billion dollar company CEO leave his stock options and start a local community-based firm so he could spend more time with his family. I’ve seen an executive needing a heart bypass cut his weekly job time by 40% and be more successful. I’ve seen a young family go bankrupt and then have their own business living exactly where they want to within five years. They all did the same things. First they quit being mad or scared. Second, they got clear on what they did want. Third, they pursued a long-term plan (multi-year) to get there. This isn’t self-help drivel from the Love Guru. These are the finding of multi-decade studies of behavioral economists. Life success and personal happiness come to those who resist overreacting to immediate circumstances and consistently invest in themselves for the long run. Believe in your future. Write your screenplay. Be the hero of your own life. It’s a great movie.
In the past two weeks I have traveled from Florida to the Rocky Mountains and back to California. I have spoken to nearly every age group, gender, and color of American, literally from 18-80. What I heard was anger. Anger at, well, almost everything that is so obviously broken. But the most pervasive feeling expressed was that we are angry because we are scared. And the most heartfelt question people asked is what can I do to create a personal oasis in a world that seems to be becoming a desert? What can I do to create personal, financial, emotional, mental and spiritual sustainability even if the outer world is convulsing with financial bankruptcy, emotional drama, mental instability, and spiritual confusion? This is the real question for all of us all the time. As one 80-year put it, “Every generation has its great challenge; welcome to yours.” From a perspective of someone who’s lived through pre-antibiotic healthcare, a great depression, a world war, civil rights, riots, and the birth of Rock ‘n Roll, that statement is code for. “Quit whining and take care of yourself.”
That very night I found myself reading a great new book, The Art of Learning, by Josh Weitzkin who quotes a powerful proverb that fits today’s challenges. Life is a long road of thorns in which we are confronted with three options: 1) we can walk the road barefoot and bloody, 2) we can sit down, weep and wait for someone to pave it, or 3) we can make our own sandals.
There have always been awful challenges. Plagues, earthquakes, wars, famines, and droughts. Job loss, divorce, death, and depression. Life’s question is “Are we willing to make sandals?” There are many ways to make them. One truism I have discovered in coaching others for three decades is that often a 5% change in our life will result in a 100% change in how we feel. Even though sandals only cover the “souls” of our feet, our entire body and mind rejoice at being relieved of the pain from the thorns of our life. Here is some “leather”—tough and strong ideas that may be of value.
If you’ve made some changes that have improved your quality of life, tell us about them. We need to share our “best practices” of life.
Founder, American Dream Project
Last week I wrote a post referring to the popularity of video games and other entertainment that glorifies violence, objectifies women and simulates a reality in which irresponsible behavior and even evil have no lasting consequences. I received a number of responses questioning if I was proposing censorship or suggesting the Bible might be worse than Grand Theft Auto. While those comments might provoke interesting discussions, I was up to something very different. The issue I am raising is, what is our responsibility? Yours and mine, to spend our time and invest our talent and money in work that contributes to a better world rather than exploits human weakness.
My question reflects a flood of new ideals that are beginning to roar down the canyons of our cultural and business landscapes. It’s called Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR. Increasingly it also stands for Citizen Social Responsibility and Community Social Responsibility. It reflects a new awareness that the consequences of our choices have far reaching impacts on each other and the future opportunities of our children. We are discovering the hard way that polluting our air and depleting our water supplies is irresponsible acts. We are concerned that masses of undereducated and underemployed people impact everyone’s quality of life. We are asking, what kind of future do we really want? Most of all we ask, is the society we’ve created the best we can do?
As far as passing new laws and regulations to control what we can watch…well, as many people worry, that’s a slippery slope. The best regulation is self-regulation. The best discipline is self-discipline. And that’s the realm we have absolute control over if we exercise it. We are fortunate to live in a free society that offers an amazing variety of jobs, opportunities and companies to work for. The question is, do we thoughtfully exercise our free choice to invest ourselves in work that contributes to a better world or not?
It seems we have three fundamental choices. First is work that is destructive to people and the planet. This is work that exploits human weakness, preys on insecurities, greed, and our potential for addiction. Or it pollutes our environment or poisons people. Second, is work that doesn’t really matter. We invest our lives making and selling things and providing services that are generic. If the work disappeared, no one would notice. Then there is work that contributes to the genuine quality of life, of people, and our planet. This kind of work exists in every field imaginable because people’s intention transforms work. If we consciously choose to make a positive difference and do it excellently, we can turn entertainment into inspirations, law into justice, and janitorial work into disease prevention. The challenge is to take the time to deeply consider our choices. Who do you work for? Are you proud of your workplace, your company, your industry? Would your children or your mother be proud of you? Should they be? Is your work the expression of your deepest and most noble longings? Could it be? The time we have is finite. Most of us will invest at least 40 or 50 working years in a career, profession, or series of jobs. Just what are we trying to accomplish? Life is more than a quest for material possessions. My experience is that if we get clear on our best intentions and our higher, love-based motives, opportunities will appear. Perhaps where we already work. I just met a software engineer whose organizing his department to volunteer to help small non-profits with their databases. This morning I had breakfast with a young Intel executive who is helping implement technology in hospitals and homes to reduce medical errors and medical costs. I know a group of surfers who bring medicine to malaria-infested islands in Indonesia. Surfers!
Perhaps social responsibility begins with an awareness that we are all responsible for how we invest our talent and energy. It’s something I think about every day. As I mentioned in my last post, I often look in the mirror and see my mortality. I ask my soul how much good am I really doing? Is this the best I can do?
Will Marre, founder American Dream Project
To visit American Dream Project’s home page, click here.
Recently I spent some inspiring time with David Wyman, a Professor at Clemson University who teaches leadership and entrepreneurship. He showed me his X-Y-Z model of business strategy which, it seems, has great personal application. David explained that the “X” stands for business-as-usual. Doing what you always do. When you persistently offer X to the world, the world responds by asking for more X at a lower cost. The reason is you have many competitors. You don’t make much of a difference. This isn’t just true for stuff we buy at Wal-Mart; it’s true about us. The value we produce at work or bring to our children or spouses is simply what everyone else does; we are just X. Plain vanilla in a world looking from more delicious, can’t-take-my-mind-off flavors. Being only a generic worker or father or mother or spouse means, in fact, that we can be easily replaced. The house brand of any vanilla ice cream is easily replaceable. Sure, someone may love us because that’s what they do, but they’d love nearly anyone else in the same position.
To compete, most businesses try to add value. That’s the Y factor. But Y is easy to copy. It’s like making ice cream in the popular and trendy flavors. But like most factory made ice cream, soon competitors have identical or better flavors in better packaging and at a slightly lower price. In our work or personal life, it’s like trying harder. Sure you can work later or go to a soccer game, but so do most other try-hard employees and parents. Working and living in the X and Y world is stressful and exhausting. You can never do enough. Everyone wants more for less.
But there is another choice. It’s invisible to most. Nearly unthinkable to some. It’s your Z factor. (David is English so he insists on calling it the “ZED” factor.) Z is the unexpected unique value a business can create with a breakaway from business-as-usual idea. And it’s your own unique personality, interests and enthusiasm brought full force to your relationships and your work. The Z factor in business is something like Cirque De Soleil, which is a combination of opera, acrobats and three-ring circus perpetually blowing peoples’ minds in a new, unique form of entertainment. It’s the ipod combined with itunes that changed the way most of us “consume” music. It’s Cold Stone Creameries, which lets us invent a new flavor of premium ice cream every time we buy a waffle cone. (See Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne)
In business the Z factor is always what people value the most. It is more than innovation. It is the invention of new, unexpected value that creates an endless “Wow!” It always comes by over-investing in some aspect of value and eliminating what’s unnecessary. Walt Disney insisted on creating amusement rides that cost 2 to 4 times what carnival rides cost. He way over-invested in landscaping, architecture and employee training. Everyone, especially his bankers, thought he was crazy. But Walt Disney understood the Z factor. So what about us?
We live in a time of hand-wringing fear. It seems that we have all the problems a society could have. That means it’s a time for us to bring our own unique “Z” to the big game. What is it that others most value about you? If you aren’t sure, ask them. Ask them what you should do more of that you’re already good at doing. Ask them what you could stop doing that isn’t really valued or appreciated. What do you love doing, at your work, with your family, friends or spouse? How could you become the Walt Disney of what you’re already good at that you love doing? And what do you do when your family or friends express their most genuine appreciation to you? How do you make them laugh? What makes them trust you? What might you consistently do that would be the thing that your co-workers or loved ones would enthusiastically tell others when you’re not around? That’s your Z factor. It’s your unique one-of-a-kind value that is your great contribution to our future. What we all admire in others. The courageous expression of unique gifts driven by our genuine goodness. As Stephen M. R. Covey (The Speed of Trust) tells us when our competence and character is expressed at an extraordinary level of energy the whole world rejoices. It’s time to get our “Z” in gear.
Will Marre, founder American Dream Project
To visit American Dream Project’s home page, click here.
Hope is emotional oxygen. Goodwill toward others is protein for our souls. But it seems so often we are either gasping for breath or suffering from spiritual malnutrition. For the last five years our economy seemed to be booming (now we learn it was really only bubbling), and it looked like everyone was rich. And some really were. The list of billionaires skyrocketed. And the media’s obsession with putting the “cribs” and lifestyles of the increasing number of rich and famous in our living rooms every night baited our inner tendency for social comparison like cheese seduces rats. Repeated studies show that social comparison is a leading cause of stress and even depression. If we are driving a brand new Toyota in a Lexus neighborhood, we mostly feel “So what’s wrong with me?” We wonder, “Am I not as smart or as lucky as our neighbors? Does God just not love me as much?” We ask all kinds of questions that get us chasing our own negative thoughts like a dog gnawing on his own tail. Then some of us, evidently lots of us, decide we’re not going to take it anymore. So we borrow to pay for stuff we think is going to make us feel better. A bigger house (Yah…now you’re talkin’!”), a flashier car, a sexy vacation, a private college education for my angel girl or awesome son. But it turns out that for far too many of us it’s all an illusion. Yes there are 8 million real honest-to-assets millionaires in the U.S., but there are also 292 million of us who aren’t. In fact, half of Americans have a true net worth of less than $10,000. The savings rate of people making between $100,000 and $250,000 is nearly zero. That’s sad. It means that we’ve become so addicted to consumption that even if we have a financially secure life our aspirations to live richer than should makes us stupid.
But social comparison works both ways. Recently American Idol Gives Back was on television (Yes, I know. What am I doing watching American Idol?). This is a modern version of a telethon to raise tens of millions for charities like Save the Children who help suffering children in the U.S. and around the world. Watching the stories of children in rural or gang-infested American neighborhoods and the millions of orphan children in Africa you can’t help but feel like we’re the most fortunate people ever. In fact, I sometimes tell audiences that. Of the billions of people that have lived on our planet, we are the luckiest. It wasn’t that long ago that a typical mother lost half her children to diseases we no longer hear about. Throughout most of human history it was common for people over 60 to die of toothache infections! But it’s hard to stay focused on all the good things of life when we’re constantly tempted to lust after someone’s private jet or even their more secure job.
As a country it is likely we are in for far worse than a rough patch. Our economy needs more than a fresh coat of spending. It’s rusted out. Our budget deficit is much larger than our leaders will admit. And the same people who are crushing Tibetian monks are buying our broken banks. It seems a consumer-based economy (largely driven by social comparison) doesn’t work when we all run out of spending money. So suffering is likely to increase. Our nation is not so much in need of repair as it is in need of a resurrection. We need a wholesale change of thinking. We need new ideas and self-discipline to implement them.
But what do we do now? The best way is to quit feeling sorry for ourselves and take a deep breath of hope. It’s to offer hope to others. It’s to have a steady diet of love protein. No, we don’t have to go to Africa. We can just change our focus to look around us right where we stand and ask who needs encouragement. Who needs a sandwich? Volunteer at school. If you’re a student, offer yourself as a tutor. No matter how bad you think your situation is there are people all around you who are suffering, and the best way to help yourself is to help others.
Now is also an opportunity for us to take a deep breath and ask ourselves what kind of life we really want. What kind of society do we really want? We are a nation of resilient, creative, generous people. We are more than we have become. We are better than this. It’s time to come together to restore a commitment to community, mutuality and goodwill. It’s a time of all of us to offer our unique gifts and abilities to serve higher purposes. We need to multiply the things that are working and starve old ideas and shout down the voices of fear. Damn it—we’re better than this.
Founder, American Dream Project
To visit American Dream Project’s home page, click here.
These days I feel as though I should walk around with a helmet on. Bad news bombs explode around me daily. Well actually not really around me. They explode on my TV, radio and newspaper. Foreclosures, inflation, bank collapse, re-inflamed Iraq, failing too-expensive education, failing too-expensive health care, debt, global warming, governments beating up monks, steroids…yikes!
But what does this have to do with our personal reality? Yours and mine? The truth is to some degree the world is always going to hell. Just ask someone who lived through the 20th century. Two world wars, a depression with 25% unemployment, holocausts, the imminent threat of all-out nuclear war. For the first 50 years of the last century we lived without antibiotics nor a polio vaccine and with legalized racism. And…the 20th century was amazingly great. We nearly all got indoor plumbing, lived in houses with heat, got telephones, rode on jet planes, enjoyed great movies, amazing music, high school and college education, and expanded our lifespan by 35 years. And there was no nuclear war after all.
So was the 20th century awful? Yes. Was it wonderful? Yes. And so is 2008. You see, reality is always both + and. Our jobs are both satisfying and dissatisfying. So are our lifestyles, our homes and our 14-year-olds. Reality is messy. It’s supposed to be. But the Grid, our media-industrial complex, likes to present reality as an either/or certainty. Either candidate “A” is the total answer, or he/she is the devil in disguise. Either we’re in a full-scale financial collapse, or it’s not even a recession. Either our marriage is gloriously fulfilling everyday, or it’s an unbearable slog of emptiness. But either/or thinking robs us of keeping a learning, flexible mind. One that is capable of thriving in a paradoxical world of disappointment and opportunity.
Understanding the multi-dimensional nature of reality is essential to living our “good” life. Our choices are served up to our consciousness from our brains. And recent research has discovered we rewire our brains minute by minute by our thoughts. Our thinking habits create mental highways that our thoughts zoom on like an endless chain of cars in a NASCAR race. And if we are not careful about what we think about and whether we nurture a solution orientation versus a problem orientation, we build a mental network of anxiety highways that result in “learned helplessness.” We get in the habit of despair. The habit of anger. The habit of thinking like a victim. Or not. It’s simple; our brains focus our attention on the version of reality we choose. It’s true we are in an economic, cultural, environmental, geo-political storm. It’s also true that we live in a country and at a time where we have the personal freedom to choose our own path through the wind. It’s no time to sit and hide. It’s time to reflect on all the choices we’ve each made that have brought us to our particular place. It’s time to carefully consider what our best choices are now to take us closer to the life of our most noble desires. It’s time to fill our minds with new, creative ideas. A time to learn new skills. Perhaps make new friends or re-kindle our best old friendships. It’s a time to read inspiring books. It’s a time to walk with a deep, inner compass toward the dawn of your best future. At least that’s what I am trying to do. Yes life is messy. Life is great. What an opportunity.
Will Marre, Founder
The American Dream Project
Our nation’s economy is burning and many of our dreams are going up in smoke. But are they? We live in a time when the relentless pursuit of society’s definition of success is blow-torching our happiness. Our peace. This always happens when we adopt goals that are thrust upon us. For years the media has programmed us with discontent. They have sold us the illusions that an endless spending spree is non-stop happiness. Most of us bought. Now we all have to pay. Bad things are beginning to happen now to lots of hard working people who didn’t participate in the sub prime insanity or haven’t abused their credit. But prices are rising and income is falling
This is all real. I know. I went broke during the last major inflationary recession in 1977. The bank that was financing my surf-wear business decided it was only going to loan to triple A borrowers. I was 26. My business was two years old and growing like a house on fire. It didn’t matter to my banker. He shut down my credit lines and called the loan. He didn’t even want a workout. It was easier for the bank to get what they could and write off the rest. It’s called a credit squeeze. It squeezed my neck until I passed out. I had to close my business and sell my house to pay off taxes and creditors. I had a wife and two small children. I had no job or house. There were nights when I felt so much stress I felt my head was going to explode with a blood-red mushroom cloud.
One night as I was driving over to see my brother, it suddenly occurred to me. “I don’t have to suffer like this. I just need to dismiss these ferocious, man-eating thoughts and think about what I am grateful for. I don’t have to feed myself anger and regret, and instead I can imagine ways to create new opportunities from my recent experience.” It was the first time I became conscious I could actually control my own thoughts. I could choose to think what I wanted to think about. Then a feeling like soaking my face in a warm washcloth came over me. If I choose my thoughts, I choose my feelings. I don’t have to feel bad. Or afraid. Maybe all that’s obvious. It wasn’t to me. Not in that time of intense feelings of failure.
Virtually all the “Wisdom Literature” of human history agrees on the essential purpose of life. It is to give love and receive it. Now brain research confirms that when we feel love or give service, we feel content, happy, and satisfied. Our immune system is stronger, our blood pressure lower. Yes, eating healthy and exercising is good for us, but the real multi-vitamin is love. Big love. Active love. The noted psychologist Alfred Adler claimed that most people could be cured of their depression in 14 days if they “try to think every day how you can please someone.” I’m not suggesting that serving others can cure all clinical depression. But I am saying that continuous loving acts of service from reading to children to helping shovel a widow’s walk can chase our own blues away.
The relentless message of our time is that “success will bring us happiness.” Wait, won’t it? No. The most we can expect from success are brief flings of satisfaction. Or in some cases relief from not failing. But enduring happiness? No. Success arises from setting and achieving challenging goals. Focus, discipline, persistence, and action are the timeless tools of success. Happiness on the other hand, is different. While we achieve success, happiness is experienced. Happiness arises from feelings of gratitude for our lives, our family, our friends, our opportunities, and our experiences and fills us with feelings of contentment. If we feel gratitude consistently, we feel enduring satisfaction.
So stop. Why not use this time to redefine success as our deep soul-chosen goals. Take time to consider what material enoughness is for each of us so we can be better acquainted with the spiritual abundance that surrounds us. We need to honor our honest responsibilities but also need to face the facts of our lives. If we feel trapped, over-worked, exhausted and discouraged from working so damn hard at things that have no meaning, it’s time to intensely re-connect with the people and activities that give us wisdom, creativity and energy.
We are entering a time of purging. A time to eliminate all the distractions that are poisoning our happiness. A time to travel lighter and love bigger. Amidst the rubble, we will find wild flowers of hope growing there just for us. All we have to do is look.
To visit American Dream Project’s home page, click here.
To see video blogs on this topic, visit ThoughtRocket.com.