Note: The following commentary, “Ashoka Foundation”, is actually an application for a fellowship. In the course of answering their questions, with great thought, another one of my essays began to slowly materialize. Rather than share it with only Askoha, I thought I would share it with this audience. The work is fresh, forward-thinking, provocative and honest.
As always enjoy!
April 29, 2010
Ashoka is leading a profound transformation in society. In the past three decades, the global citizen sector, led by social entrepreneurs, has grown exponentially. Just as the business sector experienced a tremendous spurt in productivity over the last century, the citizen sector is experiencing a similar revolution, with the number and sophistication of citizen organizations increasing dramatically… http://www.ashoka.org/about
Ashoka learns of social entrepreneurs in the United States by actively searching in fields ripe for change, and through nominations from you, our community. Please use this space to suggest a social entrepreneur you believe fits our selection criteria. You may nominate yourself, or someone you know. There’s no text limit, although a brief introduction to the person and work is most helpful at this stage.
About the Nominee
First Name: Ted
Last Name: Burnett
1. How would you describe the core idea?
I am a philosopher and writer on business, political and social matters in the United States. Primarily, I write one or two monthly commentaries and freely share them with a growing international audience. I offer a spiritual approach to addressing many of these important issues of state, national and global interest. Rather than simply take sides to the symptoms of America’s social problems like our politicians, pundits and the media so often do, I seek to point out the root cause.
I believe that our elected officials in Washington and at most statehouses across the country are living in a radioactive slough. They’re so sick, in denial, and spewing poison from their lips at one another. Their heated rhetoric and twisted legislative actions has gotten all of us very ill. These environments produce insensitivity and disrespect towards one’s self and towards one another including every constituent as a result of the ever hardening of heartened hearts.
The United States is in serious trouble do to the many faulty belief systems and illusions promulgated and embraced by most of its citizens, we have become brainwashed. We must wake up to this reality, to this truth and set a new course that leads to peace and harmony with our fellow man, God, nature and ourselves. The “celebrity” lifestyle of money, power and fame that most of this society seems infatuated with is literally killing our nation. The subjects that I write about I believe are a breath of fresh air to one’s lungs, heart and to the human spirit.
2. What is the main social problem it addresses? (Please be as specific as you can about why the existing system is inadequate or stuck.)
My commentaries are a wakeup call to America and to the world. By every conceivable measure the United States, both, our society (culture) and the federal government are bankrupt – emotionally, financially, physically, politically, socially and spiritually, but not one of our leaders from academia, business, entertainment, government, health care, law, non-profit (NPO), philanthropy, religion or sports entertainment will admit this because they can’t see it. It’s not due to a lack of intelligence, but instead to a lack of honesty. They lack the capacity to see the truth because they stopped saying it, a long time ago. Our ship’s crew is corrupt, the seas are rough and the hull has rusted out.
We have plenty of smart people living in this country, they run corporate America, Wall Street and Washington, but look at the state of these institutions. Without honesty, without integrity, nothing can stand upright for very long – not an individual, a house or this society and its government. We may have had shades of honesty in the beginning, but no longer. Wisdom has been replaced with foolishness.
The problem is beyond logical, rational thinking, formulas or quick fixes because it’s irrational, it’s insanity. Likewise, the solution is also illogical, irrational. It’s out of everyone’s mind. The wise know it while the fools can only pretend to. I’m offering a solution that addresses “the whole kit and caboodle.” I know the root cause to America’s pain and suffering and it’s not even taught at Harvard. How much would you pay to hear it, for me to write it down?
3. How does the approach differ from existing efforts – in other words, how is the idea new? (Please reference any similar efforts of which you are aware.)
The idea is new only to the ignorant, but it’s as old as time and common knowledge among the mystics. What’s changed is that we’ve become an ignorant society in the process of becoming a very successful one, maybe too successful for our own good. It all started when we began reading and believing our own press clippings. We wanted to believe that it was all true even when it never was. That’s our neurosis. We seem to think that we have all the answers to the world’s problems while appearing impotent in solving our very own.
The gravity of the problem is such that even society’s leading change-makers and experts, who often come from high society, adore and want to be embraced by the establishment (academia, commerce, entertainment, government, health care, law, media, NPO, philanthropy, religion and sports entertainment) with it’s illusion of power. They don’t grasp or respect the problem’s depths. They lack the personal experience and insight because they’ve never owned the first pair of work boots.
They’re blinded by their own participation in these artificial or phony institutions and societies, by their own corrupt belief systems, dishonesty, ego and illusions, which prevent them from “tasting and feeling” the natural world, from “tasting and feeling” reality. They don’t lack intelligence; they lack the capacity to, both, “recognize the truth and to be able to tell it” thus they’ve never developed clarity or vision. It’s all in their head and not in their heart.
They lack awareness, consciousness, which prevents them from correctly distinguishing the presenting symptoms from the actual problem or root cause. When tested they often fail. Finance or health care reform maybe necessary and socially good, but putting a new roof on an old, collapsed building does nothing to address the underlying structure with it’s washed out foundation. If anything it serves as an expensive band-aid and a proud distraction while allowing the cancer to continue spreading.
Treating political and social symptoms in this same way is tantamount to a surgeon caring for a dangerous fever with aspirin when a rapidly growing infection calls for a painful surgery. A life-saving treatment, or tough love, can only occur among the awaken, among free people – Jesus, Buddha, our founding fathers, Abraham Lincoln, Mohandas Gandhi, Sir Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela…
What I am providing is a wake up call for the hearts and minds of Americans and our global neighbors by offering up an alternative message to popular culture, to conventional wisdom. I am “blowing the whistle” on America’s lies and secrets, both, new and old. I want the entire world to know what a mess America is really in. It’s time this patient goes, into the O.R., for some major surgery to heal her heart and to reclaim her soul. This is a message of truth, of wisdom for all to feast on, for all to digest and to savor, but it’s very dangerous work. That’s the nature of expressing one’s truth. There are many recognizable forces, out there, that don’t want this to happen; they don’t want anything that threatens their possessions, power or prominence.
What I am writing about can’t be heard in the halls of Congress, at the White House, at the State Department. It can’t be read in The New York Times, in The Wall Street Journal or any other mainstream media outlet. It’s rarely spoken in the lecture halls at Harvard, at Yale… The information coming out of these highly respected institutions is pollution; it’s become toxic to everyone’s health. It’s for the ego’s consumption, but it comes at a high cost – everyone’s health and pocketbook. It’s to live all of life with a head of confusion never learning to simply follow one’s own intuition, to follow one’s own heart.
Due to a loss in personal freedom and happiness, there’s been a flattening in natural learning and human development (emotional, mental and spiritual maturity). Our vertical growth has stopped while our horizontal growth (or girth) has ballooned. As a lot, we are very immature and behave just like our teenagers and twenty-somethings even when we may be rounding fifty or sixty.
In the course of writing four dozens essays on a range of topics and growing my audience, several individuals and organizations have caught my attention as having some degree of awareness to America’s troubled waters. I have invited several of them to join my audience.
The first person that comes to mind is Harvard Law Professor, and Chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel (COP), Elizabeth Warren (an audience member since 12/08). (COP was established by Congress following the financial meltdown in the banking and financial industries, in 2008, to track the government’s TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program) money.)
Professor Warren, a leading corporate bankruptcy lawyer, has been outspoken and written extensively on the economic crisis facing America including the shrinking middle class while advocating for a consumer protection agency following the nation’s housing foreclosure epidemic. For a second time, she was named as one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World, for 2010 (and 2009). She’s appeared regularly in, both, print and TV media. Elizabeth Warren was featured in Director Mike Moore’s latest documentary, Capitalism – A Love Story.
In 2009, Professor Warren submitted three of my essays (“Business as Usual?”, “Corporate consciousness” and “An invitation to David M. Walker the President and CEO of The Peter G. Peterson Foundation”) to the Congressional Oversight Panel. Each time, I received notification from her congressional committee.
Director Michael Moore’s latest film, Capitalism – A Love Story, is a continuation by Moore to raise America’s social consciousness on the issue of America’s corporate and political corruption regarding the role that, both, Washington and Wall Street played in creating the national, and global, economic crisis of 2008. This event led to a nationwide home foreclosure crisis, the financial bailout to banks, AIG, and to the U.S. automakers, record unemployment and a deep recession that followed. His previous documentaries covered unpopular, but interesting topics on America’s health care system (Sicko), the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and the relationship of the Bush and the bin Laden families (Fahrenheit 9/11), guns rights, the NRA and the Columbine High (CO) massacre (Bowling for Columbine), GM CEO and the closing of GM’s Flint, MI plant (Roger and me) (I have, yet to see this film). Moore’s coverage of these topics appears to be honest.
PBS’s broadcast journalist Bill Moyers is clearly aware that America is facing a crisis. That’s my opinion after watching his show over the past year and from the program’s familiar promo. His guests and the nature of their discussions revolve around one thing – the deteriorating state of this nation’s political and social conditions. I have written to a number of his guests to invite them to join my audience following their appearance. A list of names includes Harvard Professor and sociologist Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, economist Dr. Simon Johnson with MIT Sloan School of Management, Boston University’s Dr. Andrew Bacevich, the late American historian Howard Zinn, NYT’s Gretchen Morgenson and the editors for Mother Jones. Bill Moyers appears to be the only show, on PBS and elsewhere, talking so frankly. Unfortunately, he has recently announced his retirement. His last show aired on April 30, 2010. His voice will be missed.
Economist Dr. Simon Johnson, with the MIT Sloan School of Management, was formerly the chief economist with International Monetary Fund (IMF), (an audience member since 11/09). Johnson appeared on Bill Moyers to discuss Wall Street and finance reform, last fall. He and James Kwak are the authors of 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown, it was released, in March 2010. He is also a weekly contributor to the NYT.com’s Economix and writes opinions pieces for The Atlantic, The New Republic, BusinessWeek.
Boston University’s Dr. Andrew Bacevich is a professor of international relations. He’s been an outspoken critic of, both, the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. Bacevich has written several books – American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of US Diplomacy (2002), The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War (2005) and The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (2008) along with opinion pieces in newspapers around the country.
Dr. Bacevich is a West Point graduate. He served in, both, the Vietnam War (1970 to 1971) and in the first Gulf War (1991). He recently appeared on Bill Moyers’ show to discuss the Afghanistan War and our failed policies. (an audience member since 6/07.) He has been “a persistent, vocal critic of the US occupation of Iraq, calling the conflict a catastrophic failure.”
Congresswomen Marcy Kaptur (OH-D) has been outspoken critic of Washington politics and Wall Street following the economic crisis of 2008, the housing foreclosure crisis that have hit her state hard and the corruption on Wall Street. Kaptur has made numerous media appearances to talk about this subject matter. She was also featured in Moore’s Capitalism – A Love Story discussing how Wall Street bought Congress for a few million dollars in campaign contributions for access to hundreds of billions of dollars in bailout money (an audience member since fall of 2009).
Gretchen Morgenson, NYT assistant business and financial editor, is a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist for beat reporting (2002) recently appeared on Bill Moyers to discuss Wall Street’s intensive lobbying effort in Washington to stop finance reform. A former stockbroker with Dean Witter Reynolds, in NY, Morgenson has reported on Wall Street for the past 25 years. She joined The New York Times, in 1998. Last year, The Nation called her “The Most Important Financial Journalist of Her Generation.”
David M. Walker is the former U.S. Inspector General (1988-98) of the General Accounting Office (GAO) and the current President and CEO of The Peter G. Peterson Foundation. He served during, both, the Clinton and Bush Administrations. As the Inspector General, Walker became alarmed at the future obligations U.S. taxpayers will have in funding Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid when baby boomers retire in full force. (an audience member since 11/09).
He grew frustrated, with lawmakers, when repeatedly testifying about the impending financial crisis in congressional hearings. Few of them have anything to say about the issue. Instead, Walker began taking his message “on the road” to opinion makers, media, taxpayer unions and student groups, around the country. His critically-acclaimed documentary, I.O.U.S.A., features investor Warren Buffett, former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, Bush (43) Secretary of Treasury Paul O’Neill, Clinton Secretary of Treasury Robert Rubin and members of Congress. Peter G. Peterson, of the Blackstone Group, specifically hired Walker to lead The Peter G. Peterson Foundation so he could carry out his work. This film is a must see.
As a result of Walker’s efforts, President Barack Obama has recently formed the Deficit Commission. Heading up this 18-person commission is co-chair former Senator Alan Simpson (CO-R) and Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles. After only one meeting both men stated publicly that they didn’t expect much to come from the committee’s work.
In 2008, I attended my one and only Tea Party, held in my community. While there is a lot of anger expressed among the speakers from this loose confederation, there seemed to be plenty of bark, but I saw no bite. Case in point, they’re fingering various symptoms as America’s problems and not the cause. “The best” proposed solution, of the day, was to wait and vote Congress out of office, “in 2 years”, in 2010. I ask, Why not now? Why wait until then. We have millions of hunting rifles and shotguns sitting in the back of our closets and locked up in safes throughout America courtesy of the 2nd Amendment. Our nation is bankrupt and the first shot hasn’t even been fired. What a useless “Bill.” As Thomas Jefferson said, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants”. We are facing a constitutional crisis. There’s a breakdown and nobody sees it. We have two critical problems, first, Americans really don’t know what they need or want, even if they’re screaming at their representatives in town hall meetings or at tea parties.
Secondly, Congress and the White House are listening to the demands of their major campaign contributors – U.S. banks and corporations, lobbyists and trade groups over the wishes of the poor American worker with his measly one vote. There’s a schism between the constituents and our lawmakers, there’s a breakdown in what everybody’s role is. With no term limits, these politicians are a bunch of octopus stuck to their desks working the phones, Washington’s cocktail party circuit, sponsored golf outings and vacations raising more money. It’s time to bear arms and show overwhelming force on Capitol Hill. They can, either, stand down and leave town or we can build some guillotines with all this idle labor and park them at the base of the U.S. Capitol on the grassy Washington mall. What a sight that would be to see. It’s time for an American revolution right now, not tomorrow, not in November 2010. That’s a joke. None of my friends above are talking this way because they lack the insight and the vision to see a new society instead of trying to rehab the present one. I have written about it for the past three years. We’ve become an “American Idle” who’s jobless, homeless, penniless, but has lots of tattoos, piercings and toe rings to proudly showoff.
My best explanation for describing the shortcomings of these smart, well-intentioned people is that they’re trying to draw rational conclusions about the actions of highly intelligent and accomplished people, often their colleagues and friends, who suffer from a severe case of insanity. If you don’t understand this one point then you won’t understand their motivations (the famous, the powerful, the wealthy) much less your own. Our society has made all of us sick (spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically) by convincing each one of us that I’m crazy, that you’re crazy. That’s a big lie and it’s gotten all of us ill, both, individually and as a society. We were all born, into this world, healthy and sane and driven completely mad, in our youth, by our parents, preachers, teachers…
Read today’s newspaper, watch daytime/primetime or late-night TV on any channel, listen to our politicians bicker, go to church and Sunday school to hear the preacher man pontificate dribble, walk the halls of your child’s straightjacket school. Listen to your best friend’s latest gossip while tiptoeing in silence around your still angry spouse. When you’re alone what do you fantasize about? Who do you pretend to be on your own little stage, in your own little world? Is that reality, is that sanity? We have three hundred million people and three hundred million different realities. Is it any wonder why we can’t get along? How crazy is this nation – very?
“The main preoccupation of society is to keep society sick!”
– Fr. Anthony de Mello, S.J. (1931-1987)
Doesn’t that explain a lot?
Where are these well polished politicians coming – from our communities, from our neighborhoods, from our schools and churches? They’re just like us. Why would we expect them to behave any differently? We’re all a bunch of actors and pretenders. In the mental health field it’s frequently said, “The addict, the mentally ill patient is always the last person to know”. The world sees our dysfunction, but we can’t. We have too much denial, we have too much pride because we have gotten so sick. We have too many crazy beliefs and hang-ups about life that simply don’t work. It’s one big illusion. It’s driven all of us nuts.
Has America become “too big to fail?” Will anyone in the world come to our rescue, if we slip and fall? Will the world continue to bail us out, to enable our self-destructive ways? Will drunken, skirt-chasing Congressmen finally come to their senses and fix this? Should we sit around and wait to find out the answer or should we get busy with living and start solving our own troubles. It’s up to us – “We the People?” The power is in our hands and it always has been. It’s time we begin to use it, it’s time for a collective meeting of individuals to take place – not classes, not parties, not races, not unions, but individuals.
4. What is the impact of the work to date, and what are the main spread strategies moving forward? (Please consider geographic spread, policy reform, independent replication/adoption of the idea, other.)
As of 3/10, my retention rate exceeds 99% for my entire audience (5,950). In 2009, three of my essays (“Business as Usual?”, “Corporate consciousness” and “An invitation to David M. Walker the President and CEO of The Peter G. Peterson Foundation”) were submitted to the Congressional Oversight Panel (COP) by its’ Chair, Harvard Law Professor, Elizabeth Warren, a member of this audience. Each time, I received notification from her congressional committee. Last August, my work was featured as the top story at on-line magazine www.ExecDigital.com. I have also received much praise from audience members. My focus moving forward is to continue growing the audience by adding faculty at top universities and distinguished individuals, both, in the United States and from around the world (Europe and Asia). In order to solve a problem, one has to first understand it. If my argument is true, then many Americans will need to wakeup to see it. Facing reality when you’ve been running from it all your life can feel like running through a fiery hell. We’re burn victims with skin that’s too sensitive to touch. It’s very painful. I am unsure of any adoption of the idea.
5. Please share relevant background on the person, including: her or his history of entrepreneurship (including childhood years) and the life experiences and/or insights that led to the current path. In your view, does this person have the skill and desire to realize the vision at a large scale?
Do to a learning disability, which was diagnosed at the age of seven, my exposure to school (K thru college) killed my natural curiosity, drive and intuition for living and learning. I was completely lost. Unable to write and speak effectively entering the workforce, this resulted in me underperforming. As a result, I was fired from several jobs.
In 2002, at the age of 32, I experienced a personal breakthrough. I began writing, for the first time ever, on some rather grand subjects. Sensing a serious mental change I took an IQ test where I scored 142, a forty-point upward swing. Surprisingly, my new bride was not supportive of the score or my new talents. After producing several short essays, in 2002, and again, in 2003, I went dormant for another four years until my separation and ultimate divorce. I have been writing ever since. I write based on what moves me, so I never know when I have found the next idea. I consciously grow my audience by adding distinguished individuals and groups that have their own sphere of influence.
My experience, in school and afterwards, isn’t all that uncommon among those who have dyslexia or other learning disabilities. It is said that surviving school for dyslexics is a “pretty good business boot camp. It fosters risk taking, problem solving, and resilience.” I’ve got that.
“Overcoming Dyslexia” is a feature story on CEO’s with dyslexia that appeared in Fortune magazine’s May 13, 2002 issue (see link). Read the story of once hopeless children who struggled their way to success. They’re a “Who’s Who” in business. After reading this piece, I knew for the first time since my diagnosis, as a child, that I was in some great company. The second link, Famous People with Dyslexia, provided with me further confirmation.
Since I have begun writing essays (2007), I have reached out to other dyslexics adding them to my audience. The group currently includes: cartoonist Scott Adams – creator of “Dilbert”, legal investigator Erin Brockovich, former 2-time West Virginia governor and College Board, President Gaston Caperton, investor Charles Schwab, founder and former CEO of Turner Broadcasting, philanthropist R.E. “Ted” Turner III along with Yale University School of Medicine dyslexic neuroscientist Dr. Sally Shaywitz.
Review the list of famous people (with dyslexia) and that’s the same capability and energy that I bring to this project. With vision, email access and the power of the Internet, I can reach out and touch almost anyone. I think Diana Wells, President of Ashoka Foundation (an audience member since 10/09) would agree. I am a late-bloomer in life, but I have a lot of experience. I am quickly making up for lost time. Most importantly, I am having a lot of fun using these talents and the lifestyle that comes with it.
6. Are there online resources we should reference to learn more about the nominee, the work, the impact, and/or the particulars of the problem addressed?
My biography includes the list of nationally top-ranked professors, the names of twenty-eight world-class universities and numerous American notables that receive my commentaries, audience reaction and a sample of essay topics. All of this can be found at www.tedburnettresume.blogspot.com. My blog, which contains almost fifty essays, can be found at www.toxicnation.blogspot.com.
Copyright © 2010. All Rights Reserved. “Ashoka Foundation application commentary.” by Ted Burnett.
I am available for speaking, consulting and political advising. My other essays can be viewed at my blog – http://www.toxicnation.blogspot.com/. I can be contacted via email at – email@example.com. My biography can be viewed at http://www.tedburnettresume.blogspot.com.