If you haven’t already figured this out by now, know that “life” is simply a series of problems from birth to death, from our beginning to our end. Even our own birth was fraught with peril as our death could be, if it’s not sudden, quick and painless. This may be seen as a pessimistic view on life, but it can also be the starting point for taking full responsibility for our lives, for our problems (both, new and old) and any opportunities that come our way while making the remaining years of life – our best! Knowing how to solve problems, as opposed to avoiding and denying them, and to recognize and act on opportunities in the quickest, cheapest and easiest manner is what separates the truly successful in life (those finding some inner peace, fulfillment and happiness or to put it another way – those engaged in “Life, liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”) from society’s many failures (the suffering discontented). The benefits of this wisdom come only with time and a lot of conscious living. The pathway to success is in developing a set of personal principles, which are harmonious to one’s own spirit. These values serve as the platform for how we consistently conduct ourselves in all our affairs, both, personal and professional. These are a set of morals that we come to “live and die by”, every day. No more hypocrisy.
Too bad we’re not taught this truth in church, in school or at home instead we got an education in everything else. Facing the truth and accepting it, however unpleasant and even painful that it maybe, allows us to move straight-forward in our life ever so slowly while maturing. Repeating this process, with all our problems (both, big and small), improves our efficiency (resulting in more positive outcomes) and our speed (the time it takes to solve them). Ultimately, for the wise this journey becomes “a quest for the truth” that leads to an intuitive ability for spotting trouble (and any opportunity) before it strikes. This gives us some time to make a necessary course correction as we’re going through another one of life’s many storms, head-on. This action gives us our best chance at surviving while minimizing the pain or it could possibly allow us to avoid the problem or crisis, altogether.
Our past should serve as a valuable learning experience that’s readily available as our guide, as our leader and be a source for our growing intelligence, as our old wounds have healed and the pain is gone. It can also serve as an aid for drawing much needed strength and courage for dealing with the next great challenge that will surely come our way. Without, either, our experience and/or this new intelligence we simply can’t evolve. In denying our past, we’re missing critical strands of DNA to learn from and to build on. With a corrupt operating system, we become lost, fearful and we turn to others to solve problems that we should naturally be able to cure on our own. We, Americans, live in a culture that glorifies personal “success” while encouraging us to burying our troubles under the rug in great shame. The approach is unnatural and so shortsighted. It’s the foolish thinking of the ego. We’ve got it so backwards and doesn’t that explain a lot about America, today? We’ve actually forgotten how to solve problems, with honesty, humility and transparency, while having no shortage of them to work on. We invent problems to serve as a clever diversion rather than work on the long-overdue ones that are eating us alive.
Be your own gossip! That’s a more balanced approach to living and to staying on course – for moving forward towards your dreams, towards your destiny. If you’re going to boast about your “successes”, about every conquest in life then be equally willing to flaunt your failures, too. Every minute that I spend talking about my situation and my life is one less minute that I have to talk about you and your life. I’m pretty candid about much of my life because I’ve come to see the benefits of, both, sharing a burden and listening to someone else’s. I know that it can lessen my load and it offers me an emotional, mental and spiritual relief that’s probably the best preventive medicine that I know of. It wasn’t always this way growing up in my alcoholic home. Like most other families we didn’t talk about our problems for many years, but that all changed.
As an adult, I’ve walked into many unanticipated situations where I had to make a quick decision as to whether I was going to “confess” about my current or latest mishap or predicament, “spin” the story or remain silent and hope that I wouldn’t be asked about the incident by a family member or my in-laws, a friend, an acquaintance or stranger. More times than not, I chose to tell the truth whether it was about getting fired and being unemployed, having a mental illness and having just gotten out of the hospital or owning up to one of a hundred different momentary realities. In the short-run, telling the truth often looks pretty foolish. Today, I chose to see things in the long-run so I really don’t care about the short-run and how something appears. These storms have always come and gone.
Depending on who I’m talking to I might feel like I’m in safe company and will be understood or it may feel like I’m pulling off a scab to someone and revealing a fresh wound or even lancing myself with a scalpel. However, if I tell the truth, I know that I’ve passed the latest test. I can live with myself and the outcome including any fallout. Regardless, I get to move forward. Within days the wound has healed and I don’t have to remember what story I told that person or try to avoid them the next time I see them coming my way. It’s definitely the fastest way to test my character and theirs and our relationship by using my own gossip as a truth detector on them.
Some people just can’t handle the truth because they can’t handle the truth about themselves, their own gossip. Better they get the story from the source, from the horse’s mouth than to let them hear a scandalous version from the town gossip. This action, if repeated, is certainly the fastest way to cure the disease known as “what other people think of me” while putting a wedge between the phony and one’s self. I’ve come to see that it’s the only natural pathway to the top as the truth leads to an upward trajectory. So, tell the whole story, both, the good and the bad and then get on with the business of living this one and only life. “We’re only as sick as our secrets.” Out yourself!
Creating one’s reality isn’t what we tell ourselves when we’re all alone, it’s what we say to someone else that creates the reality between us and them going forward. So we can tell them the truth or we can say anything else that comes to mind, but we have to live with our story, regardless until we finally set the record straight. The truth sets us free while everything else enslaves us to them and it lowers our trajectory through life. What will it be? Many times, I’ve found myself having to go see an old friend to re-measure our friendship. Will they give me a hug at first sight or do I get the cold shoulder? Maybe I need their help, will they invite me in and listen or do they throw me out. Should I take with me – a 12-inch ruler, a yard stick or will I need something longer than a 10-foot pole? This can be a real ego-buster. It’s an exercise in humility. All of it has happened to me. Their reaction to my arrival always cures any illusions I might have had beforehand. Can you stomach the truth?
Developing a mastery for solving problems as they enter our consciousness is the best policy because solving them brings us instant peace, some freedom and leads to personal growth. This practice allows us to live in the NOW, to live in reality with an eye to the next opportunity or threat as its coming over the horizon. Living in the present allows us to move spontaneously between work, play and rest, as necessary. It gives us room to contemplate life and act, accordingly. (Isn’t this dynamic missing from our hectic, always on the go lives, from our crazy society and in Washington politics?) This way of life is a huge advantage to improving and maintaining one’s health, happiness and freedom and a real competitive advantage in business and in world affairs. It’s empowering while ending one’s sense of powerlessness and victimhood.
Growing up, I had problems at home and at school. I had few tools to solve them. At some point, all new opportunities started to look just like my other problems. It was unsettling and it kept me on guard. All curiosity was gone and everything looked like a risk not worth taking. I passed up on opportunities that most kids would deem as a good time because it was in an unfamiliar setting or occurring without the company of one of my parents. It evoked a lot of fear within me. I was shut down, I was stuck. I was growing mentally and physically, but not spiritually or emotionally (intelligence). I lacked my integrity, dignity and sanity. When my father went off to treatment for alcoholism at a local Veterans Administration (VA) hospital, I should have been sent off somewhere to get help for myself and I was only nine years old (1980). I was a sick boy. Not until getting sober, nine years later, did I finally get turned around and started growing again. I slowly became willing to face my fears and to take new risks, to step outside my comfort zone and grow.
With time, I’ve come to see that in life there are two types of opportunities – once in a lifetime and those that come around more than once. The problem arises when a new opportunity is presented to us and we don’t know which it is – the former or the latter. How many of us remember the last new and spontaneous opportunity that came our way? Did you accept the offer and go or did you make up some excuse about why you couldn’t go and passed on it? Did the same opportunity ever comeback around? How many opportunities have you passed on that you’re still kicking yourself over, today? A date with that girl or guy in college, a job offer, taking some good advice, going to a great concert, taking an adventurous trip, letting someone leave your life without first telling them what has always been on your heart and mind or how many days, weeks, months and years that you let pass by with nothing to show for it? Do you regret that?
I’m guilty of some of these things and years ago I made a conscious decision to “investigate” each and every new opportunity that comes my way before deciding whether or not it’s for me. This way, I know roughly what I’m passing on. This behavior has brought me an improved quality of life due to a willingness to try new things that frequently come with delightful surprises resulting in a sustained happiness, as well as, experiencing personal growth (without the pain). From attending world-class music concerts and theatrical performances on a whim or with little expectation, to traveling to international cities to enjoy all that they have to offer or acting on someone’s recommendation to go to Costa Rica for my honeymoon, first, along the Pacific Ocean and then at the base of Arenal Volcano where the ground rumbles beneath your feet, all day. It’s an unnerving experience; bill-fishing twelve miles off the coast and just nine degrees north of the Equator turned into a spiritual moment while watching some 500 dolphin swim alongside of our boat. Given my way of life, I’m pretty responsive to someone’s suggestion and spontaneous to doing it in the next thirty minutes or later the same day.
Pride can get in the way of living the good life. Pride can keep us hungry and thirsty when food and drink are all around us. Pride can keep us lonely and alone when love and friendship are everywhere. Pride can keep us drowning and suffering when asking for help is only one request away. Pride can get us killed and sadly it does. I can’t change the past, but I change how I respond to new opportunities and threats going forward. Staying grounded and humble has allowed me to survive the hardships and thrive during the good times.
Everyone and anyone can make a personal decision to actively participate in their own life, to live a conscious life regardless of (or in spite of) one’s age, gender, education, health, income and occupation, nationality, race, religion… Whereas our own ego and lies deny us this well-deserved way of life by stopping all forward progress leaving us blind, dumb and numb to reality as we get stuck. Today’s thorns in our side can quickly become tomorrow’s infections that turn into deadly tumors, if left unchecked. Our lies to ourselves and to others sent our life careening off-course, away from True north, off to the left or off to the right causing us to go in endless circles while creating confusion, indecision and even more trouble for ourselves until we’ve finally had enough and we’re willing to seek help. When we become willing to face the truth, we grow again. Ignoring one problem can quickly morph into ignoring a list of problems with the pasting of time. Avoiding the present turns into regretting the past while now fearing the future. How long might it take to face our own troubles, these metastasizing cancers that are robbing us of our life – a few hours, several days or weeks, years? Try decades. Do you want to be right about everything or be happy? Really!
Our ability to solve our problems and to bring them to closure is determined primarily by our capacity to be honest, open-minded and willing, which is something that we’re all born with.
However, our culture, with its many twisted institutions, has taught most of us to lie, to live in shame and to point fingers at someone else for our situation while ducking all responsibility. This dynamic compromises our integrity while getting us spiritually and emotionally sick. British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill defined success “as the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” The inability to intuitively solve our problems first as children starts robbing us of our enthusiasm for living life, for being curious and playful, for being free of trouble before becoming all too concerned with the worldly matters of the adults around us – out of survival. We stop living for ourselves and live to please those in charge at home, at church, at school and in society. This fosters our own desire to grow up fast and become adult-like to gain our power and dignity while depending on no one for nothing!
I think Churchill’s definition for success is a statement about how to live a happy life. How many of us as children lost our enthusiasm for life somewhere along the way? I know I did, I think I was still in my single digits (maybe 5). By seventeen (1989), I was ready to end it all after four years of alcoholic drinking, which no longer worked for me as my chosen pain killer. I wanted out of this asylum, this hell on Earth. Getting sober helped me to regain my zeal for life while I learned how to start solving my own problems. In 2002, I got married and subsequently had a nervous breakdown causing me to really lose my enthusiasm for life, once more. For the next four years out of my five-year marriage, I endured a deep depression and other dark emotions while trying to make sense of my life having no career, no fancy job title and no income to satisfy my spirit, my ego or my new in-laws. It was a very difficult time, I was definitely stuck and any forward progress went unnoticed by all those around me.
My divorce (2007) would catapult me into my current life as a thinker and writer which has come to fit like a glove to my very surprise and has finally brought me much satisfaction, a sense of purpose for living, real freedom and much peace. Once again, I’ve regained my enthusiasm for life. All this from a kid who hated school and libraries, who won’t read books and who didn’t start writing his thank you notes for Christmas presents until sometime in February. Today, I continue to face problems, of all sizes, but I have a toolbox full of tools to solve them including a great one – asking for help. Not all problems can be solved by me, alone. Some problems involving others may be out of our control, such as, our relationships with family and friends. They can be broken, in disrepair or even dead and buried. The search for love or matters involving our health, our career and finances may be out of our hand, as well. When we’ve done our part to resolve an issue to the best of our ability to no avail, I think that’s where God, our Creator or our Higher Power… has to come in and do for us what we can’t do for ourselves. His (or Her) will be done on His timeframe, not ours. That can be very frustrating.
As I write this “The Serenity Prayer” comes to mind. I first heard this beautiful and powerful prayer while attending my first AA meeting, in 1989. I don’t recall ever hearing it in my eighteen years as a practicing Catholic. In the 22 years of going to AA meetings, I heard it what seems like a million times. It reads…
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
— Reinhold Niebuhr, an American theologian (1892-1971)
This tool works best, if you apply it to your life and to any situation that you’re struggling with, daily. Knowing what we can change and knowing what we can’t – can bring us immediate acceptance, peace and understanding while buying us some time. Learning this truth comes with time, experience and wisdom.
See attachment – What does it take to make democracy work as it should? (Begins on page 7)
Note: In March, I ran across an online story that mentioned the Kettering Foundation and its president and CEO F. David Mathews, who’s a native of Grove Hill, Alabama. I had never heard of the organization or of their president. Dr. Mathews’ hometown is 100 miles from where I grew up and still live. After reading his impressive biography, on Wikipedia, I decided to write to him seeking his assistance with a fellowship. Dr. Mathews served as president of The University of Alabama (1969-75, 1977-80), Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under The Gerald Ford Administration (1975-77). Since 1980, he’s held his current position with Kettering.
The Kettering Foundation is a nonprofit operating foundation rooted in the American tradition of cooperative research. Kettering’s primary research question is, what does it take to make democracy work as it should? The foundation seeks to identify and address the challenges to making democracy work as it should through interrelated program areas that focus on citizens, communities, and institutions(Source: Kettering.org).
In my first email to Dr. Mathews, I wrote about this 6-year writing endeavor and the makeup of my audience before talking candidly about my current financial situation. After striking out several times with other foundations, I’ve not pursued a fellowship in over two years. Given our shared roots, I hoped he was in a position to change my fortunes. I attached to the email, my last two commentaries – America – “She brain dead.” and The case of Ted Burnett vs. Coursera, Inc. – President Naylor for his review. However, before he could respond I sent him the following email. In it, I took the initiative to answer the Kettering Foundation’s own research question posted on their website having already contemplated the issue, myself…
(Note: Some edits have been made.)
April 2, 2013
What does it take to make democracy work as it should?
“To answer your website’s question in the above subject line, one has to understand that “democracy or a representative democracy” exists only in theory, they exist only in the textbooks and has never been practiced in reality, at least, not on a large scale in America or in Congress and not in modern times. Does that surprise you? Well, that’s the dilemma we’re facing. One’s lessons in civics are limited to an education in school and a political education that’s often taught at home by our parents and through the media. However, none of these teachers are actual practitioners, themselves.
In both cases, at school and at home, its theoretical and not rooted in personal experience — in debating the issues ourselves before casting our vote and living with the outcome. Whereas learning to ride a bicycle can only be mastered with a good push-off by dad followed by a lot of peddling before wrecking before making another go of it; mastering freedom and democracy are no different for those in government or for society, in general. It takes conscious practice to produce excellence in government.
To understand the depths of our troubles in America, not one of our major institutions that make up our society is democratic — not the family, church, school, media, military, corporate America, non-profits… instead they’re all hierarchical, in nature, and typically authoritarian. Our development doesn’t mold us to be free thinkers and diplomats, but to be passive, subservient and/or aggressive. There’s only one general in every army while the rest of us serve as foot soldiers.
We tend to confuse our knowledge of a subject with real life experience, which is completely different. One exercise loads the brain up with information while the other is a whole body experience that leads to a personal transformation and understanding. It’s the difference between sex education and having sex. This ignorance in democracy doesn’t stop us from sending our neighbor to city hall, to the statehouse or to Washington to represent us.
Of course, these elected officials have no prior experience with “personal freedom and democracy” either, so they go through the motions of pretending to know all about it and we honor them like they do. The assumption makes us all look like a bunch of fools when things go wrong and boy are they. Gridlock is simply a reflection of what happens when freedom and democracy no longer exist in government or in its members and insanity has set in.
Whenever an institution’s claim of a virtue goes unchallenged that’s the moment that corruption starts to take root and grows. It’s true of capitalism as being the only way to create wealth, of the education system and it being the lone place to learn, of the justice system and only the truth in everyone’s testimony. It’s true of the media and them telling us the facts, of the military and turning boys into men, of religion and its monopoly on God and of our society and freedom and of our government and democracy.
You can’t give away what you don’t have to begin with — wasn’t that the problem with exporting “freedom and democracy” to Iraq and to the rest of the Arab world? We talked it up big while shipping them empty containers. Our understanding of democracy is, at best, shallow and our experience is limited after 234 years in business. How can this be? Well, we let the Spirit of ’76 die in each of these institutions in their pursuit of fame, fortune and power instead of “…Life, liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…,” we pursued a life of scarcity (both, in love and in the material) for a life of daily abundance. How foolish!
I hope this thoughtful explanation to your question is worthy of a response.”
The following is his edited response, which did address the inability of his organization to assist me with my fellowship request.
“Dear Mr. Burnett:Thank you for your emails and sharing your essays, which have been read with interest… Your explanation to Kettering’s question “What does it take to make democracy work as it should?” is well taken. We appreciate your time to respond so thoroughly…”
— F. David Mathews, President
April 9, 2013
Returning to my explanation to Dr. Mathews, if I’m correct then the United States government and our society are neither a democracy nor a representative democracy. The emergence of this truth is now surfacing with reports of the FBI conducting covert operations on the Occupy Wall Street movement to disrupt them, the establishment and the secret operations of Department of Homeland Security and TSA occupying office buildings across America and the hotly-debated issue over whether any U.S. president has the legal authority to order the death of an American citizen on U.S. soil or abroad.
My question, is our government, with its two-party system, any different from the former Soviet Union’s Politburo with its one communist party? Is our government and this nation still as President Abraham Lincoln stated, “Of the people, by the people, for the people…” or has the government become an executive committee or an exclusive club that’s sole function is to protect its members’ prestige, wealth and power against all threats, both, foreign and domestic? Is Occupy Wall Street or any other group of Americans who’ve had enough of Washington, now, one of these threats? It’s a scary thought. From where I stand, that’s exactly how it comes off. Today, our corrupt, insane, out of touch public officials are protecting themselves, from the people, at the expense of the people while calling it in the interest of “national security”. Few have any interest in resigning from their position after decades “of service” and letting a new generation of Americans try to save this country.
If you’re wondering what came of my last essay – The case of Ted Burnett vs. Coursera, Inc. – President Naylor, not much. Since lodging my complaint with the University of Toronto’s President Naylor and Coursera co-founder and Stanford Professor Daphne Koller, in March, I haven’t heard from anyone. The ball (or this problem) is now in their court. It’s a reminder that I don’t any control over them just how I react to the problem.
Copyright © 2013. All Rights Reserved. “What does it take to make democracy work as it should?” by Ted Burnett.