They ask every four years: Who are you going to vote for? My answer: I don’t vote. I won’t vote.
In America, it is considered downright unpatriotic to admit that you don’t vote. Much like a confession to kicking puppies, it’s a response that is met with almost universal contempt. So before you call me a “blasphemer” for saying that I don’t vote and won’t vote, let me explain …
The reason I do not vote is not simply because I don’t want to waste my productive time standing in line and being forced into unpleasant interactions with petty bureaucrats. Nor is it solely because I’d rather not to forfeit whatever last vestiges of privacy I may still have in this digital age by volunteering my name to a list that some government busybody can make use of, like conscripting me for jury duty or gawd only knows what else. For me, it’s more than just not feeling about my country and the election process the way I am told I am supposed to feel about it — the way I am instructed by my government and the flag-waving element of the population (who are prone to confuse loyalty to country with loyalty to the government) tell me I’m supposed to feel about it.
My choice not to participate in the quadrennial pilgrimage to the state polling station does not mean I am indifferent, an anti-establishment anarchist or a political nihilist. I’m a political atheist. I don’t genuflect at the altar of either party.
The reason I do not vote, as counterintuitive as it may sound, is because I love my country. It is my sense of patriotism that compels me to stay home on Election Day.
The U.S. Kleptocracy
The reason I do not vote is because we do not live in a representative democracy, where voting actually would matter. Our most famous founding father, John Adams, agreed, equating democracy with mob rule and wanted no part of it. The United States of America was actually founded as a republic, in which it’s citizens were supposed to have power over government and their elected representatives were supposed to actually represent their interests. The truth today, however, is that the United States is neither a democracy nor a republic. Americans are ruled by a kleptocracy, or in other words, we are ruled by thieves. In this form of government, the officials and ruling class seek to increase their personal wealth and political power at the expense of the wider population.
Kleptocracies are generally associated with authoritarian governments, dictatorships or military juntas in third world countries, where a kleptocratic elite embezzles money directly from its citizens, thus degrading everyone’s quality of life. In these third world despots the theft happens in broad daylight where everyone can see it for exactly what it is. In the U.S., however, we have a far more sophisticated Ponzi scheme going – one that is obscured behind the veneer of our supposed representative democracy.
Civics is compulsory in our public (government) schools. In these hallowed halls of learning young minds are molded and conditioned what to believe. Our institutions teach that we live in a representative democracy where the people have the right, and in fact the duty, to do the patriotic thing and vote. We are taught to believe our vote gives us power over our government, and if we don’t like our government, we can change it. This story sounds great but it’s a fairytale. No doubt our founding fathers intended their grand experiment to give the power to the people, however what they intended and what we have today are are two very different things.
The framers of our constitution established a form of government with legislative, executive and judicial branches. With this system of governance they succeeded in preventing too much authority and control accumulating in the hands of one powerful king or dictator, however they failed in preventing an inordinate amount of power from accumulating with large corporations, special interest groups and the wealthy elite.
Today, the invisible hand of free enterprise has been replaced by the hand out. An ugly mutant form of capitalism and democracy has embedded itself deep within our system where large corporations and financial institutions can buy their own member of congress. We no longer live in a representative democracy where every person is equal and our elected representatives represent the people. Unless you can afford to buy a congressman or senator your rights are not as equal as those who can. Lobbyists and special interest groups prowl the halls of congress like cockroaches arguing for their narrow interests and rewarding members of congress who do their bidding for them. Free market capitalism has been perverted by money and replaced by a crony-kleptocratic system of government, reminiscent of George Orwell’s Animal Farm commandment: “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”.
Unlike other kleptocracies, where a single deranged self-enriching tinpot dictator would illegally rob the countries treasury embezzling millions of dollars from the people, in the U.S. we have instead an unholy alliance between large private commercial interests and politicians in government. Here, the elites exercise direct power over policy and governance, resulting in the lawful embezzlement of billions of dollars from the people through the force of taxation. No matter whether a one-man show or a complex scam run by thousands, the end result is the same: The people are victimized by an abuse of power.
Truth is, life would be far more simple under the rule of a single petty tyrant. If this was the case we could focus our collective hatred on that one man and work towards overthrowing him. But when you live under the rule of an impersonal kleptocracy, where the neo feudalist system is the disease masquerading as the cure, and plunder becomes a way of life for a group of powerful men, who hide behind laws they create for themselves; laws that authorizes the plunder and a moral code that glorifies and justifies it, it becomes far more difficult to end the senseless wars and economic injustices.
Democracy is a Myth
It is a myth that the United States of America is a democracy. Just as in most modern tyrannies, elections are held, but the reality is that giant corporations and the wealthy elite rule in a way to satisfy their own self-interest. Elections in a kleptocracy, as is the case in elections in all tyrannies, are utterly rigged and conducted to maintain the appearance that the people actually have a say, as such several candidates are offered up for consideration giving us the illusion of choice, but these candidates are patsies that have been scrubbed, sanitized, and are beholden to powerful interests hiding behind a cloak of secrecy and legitimacy. They are not, as we have been conditioned to believe, beholden to the people.
Our choices for president are served up for us by one of the two major political organizations, either Republican or Democrat parties. The two candidates are almost indistinguishable from one another because, in affect, they are both carved out of a political apparatus, one that was conceived in iniquity and born in sin. Sure, there are ideological differences between the two big government parties and their candidates, but they are essentially the same animal. They will both seek their own self-interests through expanding the size, power and growth of government. This is evidenced by government growing steadily from 1940 to today regardless of which party is in power. We have had sixty post-New Deal years to shrink or limit the growth of government, and both parties have failed equally in limiting the size of government, changing the trajectory of the country, or giving the government back to back to the people. In light of history, any suggestion that one party is better or more conservative or more virtuous than the other is pure partisan rhetoric.
Where the two big government parties and their surrogates are different, and do disagree vehemently, is over which group of people are entitled to a handout from the social welfare state, which entitlement programs our tax money should be wasted on, and what part of government should be expanded. They also differ in the type of special interest groups that own them, which largely determines what type of legislative excrement they push through the congressional sewer system. But at their core they share the same DNA. They are each others equal in their corruptibility, thirst for power and loyalty to money, along with their outright contempt for the common taxpayer.
The two national parties nominate candidates who are in alignment with their political views and in lockstep with their ideology, then attempt to seat the winning candidate, which once in power will be beholden not only to the interests of those in control of the political party, but also the corporations and wealthy elite who have bought and paid for them.
Alternative parties, whether Libertarian, Green, or Independent, are not given equal access to the national stage, not invited to debate the issues, and not given equal coverage by the national media outlets (who receive millions in advertising dollars from the two major parties), which all but ensures they remain in relative obscurity. When an “outsider” enters the race and suggests any meaningful change in Washington, their views are quickly disparaged, their ideas considered radical, and they are labeled an extremist. And as if the entire population swallowed the same cool-aid all at once, all the people agree and say in unison, amen! With that, all alternative independent candidates are put to death.
Now that all competition has been eliminated and all worthy contenders are marginalized (thanks in large part to their handmaidens in the complicit media), the two big government parties are assured one of their boys will win the race. This also works out swell for the inside the beltway elites and the large commercial interests, because it to cuts down on the number of candidates that have to be bribed, thus reducing the cost of buying the election, but most importantly they are guaranteed an agreeable candidate who will ensure the status quo is maintained and interest of corporations and the wealthy elite are met.
Once in office, It’s common for the newly elected government puppet to appoint key decision-making roles to those friendly to the corporations that funded them, including executives from these corporations. And it’s routine for high-level government officials to be rewarded with high-paying industry positions when they exit government. It’s common and routine for former government officials to be given high-paying lobbying jobs so as to use their relationships with current government officials to ensure that corporate interests will be taken care of.
The Dumification of America
The great majority of people in this country seem mentally incapable of comprehending just how incestuous and corrupt their government has become. They fail to see the tremendous advantage that rests with a small elite group of inside individuals, influential economic entities such as banks, commercial entities, and lobbyists that act in complicity with, or at the whim of the Kleptocracy. The average hardworking American will bear this countries burdens without complaint, and without even suspecting that the entire system is inimical to their interests. Yet, beyond reason, these same people will expend great energy passionately arguing over which of the two system-generated candidates are most qualified to lead the country, which in the end, amounts to not much more than an argument over which is the best horse in the glue factory.
Most of what passes today for critical thinking or objective analysis is best described as partisan political rhetoric. But my biggest loathing about politics in general is the selective outrage on both the left and the right. For example, it is pure unadulterated blind partisanship to disparage the Occupy Wall Street movement for wanting to change the system while praising the Tea Party for wanting change the system. It is intellectually dishonest to ask for a far right extremist like Rush Limbaugh’s scalp when he puts his foot in it, yet when a far left extremist like Bill Mahr does the same thing he is praised for his candor. It is the height of hypocrisy to cry out for President Bush to be tried for war crimes for gutting the constitution with the Department of Homeland Security, illegitimate wars, illegal wiretaps, secrete courts, and the torture of prisoners, then remain silent when President Obama suspends habeas corpus, signs into law indefinite detention, continues extraordinary renditions and continual monitoring of U.S. citizens, and authorizes the assassination of US citizens on foreign soil.
The belief system and worldview of many Americans, perhaps a majority, are comprised of media indoctrinated myths and government propaganda, not the truth. Americans will fight, and even go to war, to defend the lies that they believe. Americans have lost their ability to think critically and discern fact from spin. They no longer possess the habit of critical thought; to wait patiently for evidence and weigh it uninfluenced by bold and confident assertions made on one side or the other. They are blinded by petty partisanship and government propaganda, which leads to the demonetization and stereotyping of groups of people and placing them into tidy color-coded (blue vs. red) classifications, or dividing them into overly simplistic (99% vs. 1%) income brackets.
In order to avoid becoming foolish victims of deception and self-deception, we must skeptically examine and question everything we hear — especially when it comes from our government or the complicit 24/7 media dominated pop culture of lies, spin, and deception. We must learn to resist the cajolery that appeals to our dearest prejudices and refuse to rest in the comfort of our convictions. Instead of ferociously defending the things we “know” to be true, we must cultivate the habit of questioning everything we know – because everything we know to be just might be wrong!
So long as the majority of Americans would rather have their beliefs vindicated than know truth, a small number of determined elites will remain in control of the economic and political life in this country. If facts are unable to penetrate brainwashed and closed minds seeking vindication to keep the mind locked tightly against unsettling truths, powerful oligarchs hell-bent on maintaining the cozy crony-patronage system will continue to hold our country ransom while increasing their power and wealth at our expense.
Voting is an Unethical Act
Any participation in an Orwellian process engaged in the legalized plunder of the American population, where the poor are exploited and the innocent are forced into doing things against their self-interests, is unethical in my book. It would be no different than if I joined a group knowing full well that they intend to commit a robbery – I am not innocent just because I’m not the one holding the gun; I am guilty as an accessory by agreeing to go along with the mob that commits the crime. Whenever we participate in a thing, our participation becomes our tacit endorsement of it. I believe it is unethical to participate in the further privatization of our government and the continued economic exploitation of the population, therefore I choose to opt-out of the election process and not vote, which is, in effect, my vote against corruption and coercion.
Your active participation in a system known to be corrupt only legitimizes it. Your vote is your personal stamp of approval and endorsement of the system. When you cast your vote you are not agitating for change, you are voting to maintain the status quo. Regardless of which big-government candidate you choose, your vote for change is a vote that gets hijacked and tallied in the “no change” column. If you really want change, then choose to actively participate in the political process by voting with your feet. My choice to be a non-voter casts a vote for change. Opting out is my way of saying I do not endorse the corrupt system, I do not buy the big lie, and do not agree with what is going on in this country. My non-vote is a real vote for change.
Furthermore, if you are a voter you have no right to complain because you help legitimize the process every time you choose to participate in it. The only way to truly make your objections known and delegitimize our corrupt system is by not participating in it. By abstaining you have no blood on your hands. You send a message that you refuse to affirm our self-serving oligarchical system.
Your Vote Doesn’t Count Anyways
You have to admire the resourcefulness of the vested interests in disguising their scam as a representative democracy. Reminds me of Goethe, who said, “None are more enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”
Our system has been allowed to stand for over two-hundred years because the powerful interests that profit from it allow it to stand. If our vote offered any threat to the status quo, I’m convinced these same powers would see to it that the act of voting was abolished.
Politicians are fond of saying every vote counts, but the concept of political representation and in this country is an elaborate fiction propagated by self-serving politicians, recycled by big media and parroted by an uninformed electorate. The process, as it is today, is about as fair and equitable as a dozen wolves and one sheep voting about what to eat for dinner.
Our system is nothing but a ruse designed to control the population and make the huddled masses feel like they are free and in control of their country. The fact is, a single vote has no more effect than a single grain of sand has on a beach, and people who believe it is anything more are either hopelessly brainwashed or simply have an inflated sense of self-worth.
If you think your vote counts, then why is it that every four years you cast your vote for change but continue to get the same thing? Remember, Obama was supposed to be the hope and change guy. He was going to part the seas, unite the people and deliver the change we were so desperate for after being subject to eight years of the Bush administration horror-show, but fast forward four short years and virtually all the policies and problems created by the Bush administration have either continued or been made worse by the hope and change guy. For example, Obama kept the same Secretary of Defense as Bush. Kept Bush’s taxes. Kept Guatanamo Bay open. Kept Geithner and many other Wall Street insiders in the administration as holdovers from the Bush administration. Continued all the bailouts started by Bush and added a bunch more. Kept us in the same wars as Bush and put us in a few more (Yemen, Syria, Libya, etc). And Obama surpassed Bush as the biggest spendthrift in the history of the republic by exploding our national debt by an additional 5 trillion in less than four years, an incredible feat that not even Bush accomplish in his first term.
Sure, I know, he has been foiled at every turn, and if he hadn’t inherited such a huge mess from the last guy, and the alternative would have been worse, and if congress would just get the hell out of his way, and if we just give him some more time, and of course the next four years will be different, blah, blah, blah. Every incumbent president, both Republican and Democrat, use the exact same excuses, spin the same lies, and engage in the deception. Jeezus, just how stupid are we to believe it will be any different next time around? Isn’t the definition of insanity to keep doing the same thing but expect different results?
Every four years we get seduced into participating in the American electoral process — a process that is more kabuki theater than democracy in action. For more than two long years we are forced to endure spirit-sapping negativity, obnoxious smear-campaigns polluting the airwaves, and absurdly expensive theatrical performances, then at the end of it all we are given the option of choosing between two sides of the same coin - which is no choice at all.
Our vote is a false choice producing the false appearance that we are in control, which is false belief that does little more than feed our false egotism. You may feel patriotic and empowered when you vote, and if it makes you feel good then go right ahead and do it, but do so knowing full well that you aren’t changing anything. It may feel good to punch that ticket or pull that lever, but feelings are not facts, and the fact is your vote doesn’t matter. Sorry.
The modern state is no longer constrained by a constitution that limits its actions and prevents it from violating individual rights – today the state sees the constitution as a dead letter. It routinely coerces innocent non-consenting people to do all sorts of things against their wills, like taking trillions of our tax dollars away from essential public services and diverting it to the industrial war complex to conduct on far-flung unjustified military adventures and experiments in “nation building” that kill, mame and destroy the lives of thousands. Or committing economic fraud by transferring billions of our tax dollars to the banks under the guise of it being “necessary to save the financial system” - a bailout (wealth transfer) so massive in size that virtually guarantees this generation and the next a lifetime of debt-serfdom and war. John Milton said it best: “Necessity; the tyrant’s plea.”
The U.S. has devolved into a kleptocratic system of government that is pure institutionalized coercion and lawful corruption. We do not have a government of the people and for the people. We have a government that inimical to the interests of the people. I refuse to be a “good American” and dutifully partake in a process that guarantees the formalized and systematic exploitation of it’s citizens.
Government loses its claim to legitimacy when it abjectly violates the rights of it’s citizens and refuses all reasonable offers to return government limits within its own constitution. Making a personal choice to be an active non-participant in an unjust system that legitimizes government corruption is an act of true patriotism and is grounded in the rich tradition of nonviolent resistance.
When an out-of-control government strips people of their constitutionally protected rights and freedoms, conducts unlawful wars that kills millions, commits economic fraud that harms billions and loots trillions, revolution not only becomes duty, it becomes a necessity. As Thomas Jefferson said, “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty”. The way I see it, choosing to opt-out and not vote is constitutionally protected “integrity-based” decision not to encourage the bastards!
When tin-plated dictators around the world rig their elections people stay home and refuse to participate because they know their vote won’t change anything. This is the peoples way of deligitimizing a corrupt process.
Imagine if we did the same thing. What if “we the people” chose to be active non-participants in the upcoming election? What if millions joined the non-voting revolution? Suppose for a moment they gave us a war, and nobody came? Suppose they levied a tax, and nobody paid? Suppose they gave an election, and nobody voted? What if everyone opted-out and stayed at home? In one election, in a single day, this simple courageous patriotic act would delegitimize the whole crooked, festering, parasitical parliament of whores in Washington. It would be a revolution without firing a single shot. Our non-vote and choice to opt-out of this corrupt process would be a total vote of no-confidence. I contend this just might be the only non-violent way to end the corruption and retake our country.
Do what you will, but if you ever want to see real “hope and change” in your lifetime, beyond that of a meaningless slogan on a blue decal stuck to the bumper of a Toyota Prius, you might consider NOT voting … for a change!
I consider myself to be a dispositional optimist, meaning the majority of the time I take a hopeful view which usually leads me to expect the best possible outcome from any given situation. In a world that is overwhelmingly negative, pessimistic, and dominated with “if it bleeds it leads” news stories, being an optimist is about as ‘contrarian’ as anyone can get.
The physical and emotional health benefits of having a positive mental attitude are well documented. People who look to the bright side tend to find the silver lining they seek, as a result they are psychologically better adjusted and usually far happier than their pessimistic counterparts. History is also rife with examples of where it pays to be optimistic. Take for instance those that have had an optimistic view of America and have invested their time and treasure accordingly – they have seen marvelous compounded gains over time while those who have been negative about Americas prospects and bet against her have lost a fortune.
I believe in the power of positive thinking, but that presupposes you are actually ‘thinking’. As a sailor I like to take my boat out on the water when the weather is nice, however once at sea pretending the weather will always stay that way foolish. Maintaining a healthy respect for Mother Nature and keeping your passengers safe is the captains most important responsibility. No doubt it’s important for a captain to keep a positive mental attitude, but It’s delusional to believe that positivity alone will keep the bad weather away and your ship safe. Positivity should be the catalyst for creative and proactive action, not an excuse for ignorance, apathy, and inaction. If you want your voyage to be successful you must be prepared for the unexpected and recognize the danger storm clouds represent so you can take appropriate steps before it’s too late.
Now I am no monetary scholar or economist, I’m just your typical working guy with an average level of intelligence, but I can clearly see the black clouds gathering on the horizon.
Rome is Burning
We have a festering problem that needs to be dealt with before it’s too late.
The U.S. Government gross national debt just surpassed 15 trillion dollars and is growing by a mind boggling 4 billion each day! If you include the federal governments “off balance sheet” deficit, which includes Social Security and Medicare, estimates place our debt at somewhere north of 70 trillion dollars in unfunded liabilities. For the first time since World War II our deficit is over 100% of our gross domestic product, but the difference between then and now, in 1947 our spending was on the war, and shortly after the war was over this deficit was brought back down to manageable levels, today however our deficit is driven by government malfeasance and exacerbated by out of control entitlement programs.
Most of Europe suffers similar problems. Profligate spending and socialist style entitlement programs has them teetering on verge of collapse. China has its own problems with an overheated economy and a real estate market that looks eerily similar to ours in 2006. If you combine Europe, China, and the U.S., global debt has grown over the last nine years from 80 trillion to 210 trillion. The global credit market has grown at an astonishing 12% rate per year for the last nine years, while GDP has barely crept along at 4%.
The current U.S. financial situation is so frail it would take just one falling domino in Europe or China to start a chain reaction that could cause a catastrophic collapse of the entire system, yet the vast majority of people go about their business as if nothing in was wrong in the world. In the meanwhile our government fiddles.
America the Dysfunctional
Our once great country has morphed into a dysfunctional democracy. We have a republic that that is not representative of the public. We have something the founding fathers never intended. They intended for us to have our representatives to be real people that come out of the real world with real world experience to provide short-term service and then go back to the cities or small towns from which they came.
Unfortunately, what we have today are career politicians that do not come out of the real world and who have no real world experience. They travel east to Washington DC seeking their own self-interest and become entrenched life-long bureaucrats that don’t understand the real world, nor do they care to represent the real world. These representatives are hired by voters as temporary public servants and given a small but adequate income meant to compensate them for their time while they serve their constituencies.
As soon as the newly elected are sworn into office the corporate lobbyists and special interest groups begin circling like vultures waiting to pounce on their prey. Not long after taking their oath of office the humble pubic servants develop a terminal case of amnesia and quickly forget about the people they promised to serve as well as the constitution they swore to uphold. Soon, back room horse trading and quid pro quo dealing leads to legislation that favors large conglomerates at the expense of small business and the lowly taxpayers. Then after only a few years in office, in a mysterious twist of good fortune, these government paid public employees become fabulously wealthy beyond all comprehension.
It’s sad but true. Will Rodgers had it right when he said, “It’s easy being a comedian when the government is writing the material for you”.
A Fool and His Money are Soon Parted
This republic was founded on the principle of opportunity, not entitlement; on savings, not debt, and personal responsibility, not irresponsibility. Today, over half of U.S. citizens’ pay nothing whatsoever in taxes yet they gorge themselves at government trough. The original intent of these government programs was to provide a safety net for those that found themselves temporarily down on their luck or incapable of taking care of themselves – they were never intended to be hammocks for the lazy.
Under the welfare state we’ve seen entitlement programs explode and now account for over 35% of wages. Over 60% of federal government spending is on obligations that have nothing to do with the original intent of the federal government. We spend one trillion dollars per year to maintain our empire around the world with over 860 military bases in at least 59 foreign countries and territories. And even though we are flat broke, we still send another 48 billion each year overseas to foreign governments in economic assistance and military aid. We spend like drunken sailors and act as if there will be no hangover.
One hundred years ago America borrowed from other countries in order to invest in production to sell products abroad, as a result America became a greatest nation in world and the largest creditor nation in the world. Today, America borrows in order to consume and has become largest debtor nation in the history of the world. America is like a drug addict and foreign lenders are the enablers.
China loans us hundreds of billions each year and we return to them billions in interest payments that they intern reinvest back into their country so that they can keep selling us stuff. We are spending and accumulating debts while China is investing and accumulating assets. China is building a bright future and we are squandering ours. We behave like we are infallible, as if the law of gravity doesn’t apply to us, and we think we are the “greatest”, yet 50% of our debt is owned and financed by foreign lenders – China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, etc. History is very instructive in this regard; no nation has survived let alone thrived as debtor nation. 30 years of fiscally irresponsibility and living far beyond our means has put our republic at grave risk.
In the Land of the Blind
Most folks in America don’t give multi-trillion dollar deficits much thought nor consider the consequences of these cataclysmic levels of debt because everything in their life ‘feels’ normal to them. The vast majority of people are too busy running on the gerbil wheel to stop and think about the burning fuse at the end of this ticking time bomb. They are just trying to keep their jobs to put food on the table, and when not at work they are scurrying around like carpenter ants, taxiing kids to and from school, soccer practice, piano lessons, etc. Those who aren’t busy being responsible adults and raising their families are behaving like juvenile delinquents and morons, sleepwalking though life in a semi-comatose state only to waken from their stupor to catch Americas Got Talent, SpongeBob, or one of the Housewives shows on TV. The remaining tiny minority who are engaged and fully awake don’t seem to alarmed about all the deficit hubbub, probably because they’ve heard “the sky is falling” so many times in the past they have become numb to the warnings.
Unbeknownst to the majority, our nation is vulnerable right now and at risk of falling into the ash heap of history. It wouldn’t be the first time it has happened to a great country and you don’t have to go way back to antiquity and the Roman Empire to see that the collapse of a great world power is possible. But we have short memories, especially Americans, who suffer from a collective amnesia when it comes to history.
I find it interesting that it is almost a sacrilege in this country for one to question whether America might someday meet with the same fate as Rome. People get very defensive when America’s exceptionalism is challenged. Suggest that we’ve had our century in sun and the next century belongs to someone else and most people become indignant and downright angry. If you postulate whether a bankrupt nation can still be considered “great” your called anti-American but if you turn a blind eye to the obvious you’re a patriot? Very curious indeed.
It is an “inconvenient truth” that the country our parents and grandparents fought to preserve is distinctly different from bankrupt country we have today. A person would have to be either blind or hopelessly lost in a state of perpetual nostalgia to not see that America is not the shining beacon on the hill that it once was. I think it’s similarly obtuse to not even consider the possibility that America’s light could someday flame out. I certainly hope we can pull out of this nosedive because It gives me no pleasure to pen these words. I love my country and have a special admiration and appreciation for those that have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend her, but I would be remiss to longingly remember yesterday while conveniently forgetting about the reality of today.
This Time its Different
Sir John Templeton, the legendary investor and philanthropist, said the four most dangerous words in investing are: “this time it’s different”. The last 50 yrs has proven Sir John to be absolutely correct. The most successful investors in the world have ignored the naysayers and profited handsomely by his sound advice. Thinking that it is “different this time” has always been a dangerous in investing because it’s almost never different this time. Fanatics who cry, “the end of the world as we know it is nigh”, are disappointed time and again to find the world doesn’t end as they prophesied.
But the reason our deficits in the past did not result in an “end of the world” catastrophic meltdown is because we were able to pay them through economic growth. The problem this time around is our deficits are so huge they simply cannot be overcome with GDP growth. In order for the U.S. to grow its way out of it’s multi-trillion dollar deficit it would require GDP growth to average over 20% per year for the next twenty years. No country in the history of the world has ever seen that kind of GDP growth. We’ve gone way beyond the tipping point this time, the bill is due, and we can’t pay it. It’s a mathematical impossibility for GDP growth to come to our rescue and save us from our excesses. This is not an opinion … this is math. I hate to say it (sorry, Sir John), but unfortunately … it is different this time.
Those that have sounded the alarm about the dangers facing America are met with ridicule, are marginalized, or are flat our ignored. Granted, these nattering nabobs of negativism have been wrong in the past about our countries future, but it’s a funny thing about prognosticators, economists and weathermen; they always seem to be wrong about their forecasts, that is, until the day they are right. It is said that if you cry ‘Wolf’ long enough sooner or later you are going to be right. So, what if this time the big bad wolf really is at our doorstep? What if the doomsayers actually got it right this time?
Sadly, those entrusted with the responsibility of delivering the ship of state and its passengers safely to its port of call have been sound asleep in the wheelhouse, and as a result, they have placed everyone on board this ship in grave peril. Rather than accepting responsibility for their reckless actions and plugging the hole in the hull, they convene super committees, bicker among themselves as to who’s to blame, and squabble over who will fix the problem. These hapless half-wits are rearranged the deck chairs on the Titanic while the ship is sinking! As the water gushes past the bulkheads and rises perilously high, the captain, for some inexplicable reason, decides it might help to roil the passengers with his rancorous rhetoric in a lame attempt to divide the halves from the have-nots. Meanwhile the captain’s minions announce that we have nothing to fear, yet at the same time they dawn their own life jackets and maneuver to secure a seat on the lifeboat for themselves and their friends. The music plays on, and the oblivious passengers go about their day unaware disaster is looming, that is until it becomes obvious that the ship is doomed to sink. At this point, widespread panic ensues as every man woman and child scramble to avoid the rising water in a futile attempt to save themselves, but unfortunately, it’s too late.
Where is Ludwig von Mises When We Need Him?
The Austrian School of Economics says if you are swamped in debt and cannot pay your bills then you should go belly up, not get bailed out. In the real world it’s called insolvency and bankruptcy. Creditors write off the bad debts. Those who took the risks for their own private gain are forced to absorb the losses. Those who made the bets rightly suck the losses. If risk and return are causally linked, then those who made the big bets that went sour should get wiped out. It is the only just, moral, and equitable way to go that makes any sense. Yes, they get wiped out –that includes high-flying money managers, the politically connected big bank honchos, multimillionaire bond-fund gurus, and everyone else who foolishly bought the debt without investigating the risks. If those who made the bets for their own private gain aren’t forced to absorb the risk, then we don’t live in either capitalism or democracy; we live in a financial-fascist tyranny.
Free markets when they are allowed to work resemble nature. The strong eat the weak and only the fittest survive. While this offends our sensibilities and may seem ugly and cruel, it’s necessary to sustain a perfect balance in nature. There is order in the chaos; it’s only when man interferes with nature’s perfect balance that things go awry. Now I’m not suggesting free markets are perfect, they are far from it, but they are far more perfect than the government bureaucrats that monkey with them.
When an outside force (government) interferes with the natural law of cause and effect, disastrous unintended consequences result. When governments bailout out the risk takers by taking money from the strong, competent, and responsible and giving it to the weak, incompetent, and irresponsible (AIG, Freddie Mac, Citigroup, Bank of America, General Motors, etc.), moral hazard is always the result. When government steps in to stop the pain the pain is not eliminated – it’s simply postponed.
I’m from the government and I’m here to help
U.S. government used trillions in taxpayer funds to prop up incompetent businesses during the 2008 financial crisis, thus creating the greatest wealth transfer in the history of the world. Let us be clear, they didn’t spend trillions of dollars of their money on their compulsory corporate charity program; they spent trillions of dollars of our money, the taxpayer, who along with our kids, grand kids, and great grand kids, who will be stuck paying for our governments ill-conceived corporate welfare for decades into the future.
The process of sheltering incompetent businesses from the consequences of their bad behavior while preventing them from failing has prevented the recovery from taking place, and in the process expanded the already overstretched bubble. Most talking heads (the majority of whom work on Wall Street) say that our biggest mistake during the 2008 financial crisis was letting Lehman Brothers fail – actually I disagree, in my view that was the only intelligent and responsible thing the government did.
If a business or economic system is nothing but a house of cards then it needs to be allowed to collapse. We should have learned this lesson from Japan which did the very same thing the U.S. Government is doing now, refusing to let anyone fail, as a result they have suffered with 20yrs of malaise and deflation.
Letting the free market work means letting failure get what it deserves. Yes, failure is painful, but postponing the inevitable by propping up derelict companies and inflating the debt bubble with profligate spending will be considerably more painful in the long run. Our phony baloney economy along with all the over leveraged insolvent companies that cannot stand on their own need to be allowed to fail, because that is the only way to stabilize this economy and its only hope for an eventual recovery. Like a woman in childbirth, first pain then joy.
But today, unfortunately, we appear to live in a make believe construct inside the Matrix, where Frankensteinian governments, corrupt self-serving bureaucrats, and PHD monetary scholars at central banks pull all the puppet strings. These apparatchiks do not have a soul and they do know their history. They are not men and women of character and integrity, they are crony capitalists devoid of the political courage and unwilling to risk loosing an election to do the right thing.
Governments bail out the big banks, their campaign contributors, and their friends in high places, all under the pretense of “saving the financial system”, then they shift the losses to the unsuspecting chumps – the taxpayer. To paraphrase Shakespeare, the Federal Reserves unrestrained money printing combined with governments profligate spending, it must follow, as the night the day, thou will see increased taxation. How can we have positive evolution when the people who do the right thing have to bailout and finance the people who did the wrong thing?
What the government doesn’t confiscate in taxes we will end up loosing in purchasing power to hyperinflation (eventually). Nobel prize winning economist Thomas Sargent noted: “There’s a fundamental truth that everyone has to understand: what the government spends, the public will pay for sooner or later, whether in taxes or inflation or both. So yes, that means you and I are going to get stuck with this bill, and our only crime is that we have our fiat money in commercial banks, retirement accounts, and mortgaged homes.
The government-funded Ponzi scheme
What I find most objectionable is government’s solution to solving our massive debt problem. They have decided to create more debt! Instead of deflating the bubble they created, our government has gone 180 degrees the other way. These dirty rotten scoundrels have gone on an unprecedented spending spree that is orders of magnitude larger than anything mankind has ever seen. Their misguided plan to create more debt and inflate assets in an ineffectual attempt to stimulate the economy has failed. Not only has it failed to achieve its objective, it has brought us right the to brink.
In an act of criminal foolishness it appears governments plan is ignore its debt problems. It is crystal clear to anyone with eyes to see that not only does the U.S. Government refuse to cut expenses, reform entitlements, and address the debt problems; their intention is to increase spending over the next decade to more than 40 trillion. But the “inside the beltway” propagandists tell us they are cutting expenses. You cannot believe ANYTHING the government tells you! They aren’t cutting anything – they are spending. In a masterstroke of backassward accounting, what the government calls a cut, is merely a minor reduction in the growth of their out of control spending. These “cuts” will not put a dent our deficits; it barely reduces the amount we pay to the Chinese in interest payments on our growing deficits. American politicians will not, under any circumstances willingly confront our underlying debt crisis. While this should not surprise anyone, the sheer dysfunction displayed should serve as a cold shower for those who still harbor any desperate illusions that we can make it out of this mess unscathed.
Thirty years of reckless spending, deception, and manipulation has turned our financial system into a government-funded Ponzi scheme. And one thing is for sure, all Ponzi schemes eventually implode, and when they do they do so quickly. Ask anyone who had money with Bernard Madoff – he successfully perpetuated his fraud for over thirty years with barely a hint of impropriety, and for thirty years investors actually profited from his scam, but when confidence in the market was lost, his enterprise imploded quickly, and nobody, not even the most sophisticated investors had time to get their money out.
Schemes like the one the government has perpetuated for the last thirty years is based on the same principle: lies, deceptions, and the confidence game. When the curtain is pulled back, the ugly truth is exposed, confidence is lost, and the financial house of cards comes tumbling down.
Ernest Hemingway, when asked how a bankruptcy happens, he replied, “Slowly, then all at once.”
Our paper currencies are not backed by the gold standard, they are backed by PHD’d money-men at the FED and hollow promises by our career politicians. Our banks are empty vessels that have leveraged and lent out our deposits and barely keep any cash on the books. Most western nations are completely insolvent, and everyone is exposed to everyone else.
Everything can ‘feel’ normal so long as that trust and confidence remains intact, but as soon as people lose confidence in the system, things collapse very, very quickly. The late German economist, Rudi Dornbusch said, “The loss of confidence takes longer than you think it should and happens faster than you thought it could”.
Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics.
Of course the government establishment will aggressively and vehemently deny all facts about a coming economic collapse in order to avoid widespread panic. Earlier this year Ben Bernanke went on 60 minutes (the first time ever for a Federal Reserve chairman) to tell us that “everything is okay and our economy is recoverng”. Timothy Giehtner (Treasury Secretary) just announced that the “we have a strong dollar and a strong dollar policy” … but we know exactly the opposite is the case. Benjamin Disraeli, the British Prime Minster, said, “there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics”.
Our government is incapable of telling the truth. If the general public knew that the U.S. was on the verge of collapse or about to loose it’s standing as the world’s reserve currency there would be widespread panic. This would lead to a run on the banking system, a seizing up of our economic system, and a collapse of the stock market. It is a certainty that the public will not be given “a heads up” from the federal government that we are at the precipice. You and I will be the last to know.
When it comes to the economy, we have nothing like a tsunami or earthquake early warning system to prepare the population in advance of an economic disaster. We will not hear sirens or warning bells so we have a chance to head to higher ground and save ourselves. Actually, we have exactly the opposite of an early warning system in the U.S.; what we have more closely resembles a Ministry of Propaganda whose mission appears to be to shove us into the path of an oncoming freight train. The earth is shaking yet our government leaders go on TV and tell us the “water is fine” and they encourage us to head to beach!
I just can’t help but laugh when I think of the quote by Lily Tomlin when she said, “No matter how cynical I get, it is impossible to keep up. Yup, I think that pretty much sums up my sentiments exactly.
Up, Down, Sideways …who knows?
I wouldn’t venture a guess as to what will happen in the short term, nor can can be absolutely certain what will happen in the long run. Bertrand Russell said, “Not to be absolutely certain is, I think, one of the essential things in rationality”. I consider myself to be a rational person; as such I have to admit my crystal ball has been on the fritz so I can only take a guess, just like everyone else, as to what the future holds, but I think there is a 98.3 % (laughing) statistical probability that this story will eventually end very, very badly.
That said, even though governments around the world are defaulting and central banks are flooding the market with monopoly money, the stock market may still rally from here. The real estate market may recover in the short run. The economy might rebound and double dip recession fears may abate. Euphoria and optimism may return in spades and everyone might start singing “happy days are here again”.
As governments and central banks from around the globe lock arms in a coordinated response they may actually succeed (again) at covering up and hiding our festering problem from view for a while longer, thus extend the lifespan of the bubble. This bubble might continue expanding unabated for months, or even years, who knows? You can’t tell by looking at a bubble when it’s reaches its maximum elasticity and is about to explode. You only know it’s stretched too far in hindsight, AFTER it’s blown.
No reasonable person can predict with any degree of certainty WHEN a bubble will blow, but reasonable people can speculate on HOW. The overwhelming majority of economists are unanimous in their consensus that our massive debt burden and governments response will bring very high levels of inflation. I’m not so sure.
Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds
Most financial experts agree that inflation is coming, as such, they recommend buying gold, which makes perfect sense when you think about it. It’s so obvious everybody and their mother seem to believe now’s the time to buy gold. Late night infomercials are capitalizing on the enthusiasm by showing us how to buy sell and trade gold. Today, gold and inflation are the topics du jour around the water cooler, and waitresses, cab drivers…everyone is buying gold.
The gold rush is on with the precious metal trading at $1800 an ounce, up from $250 an ounce just ten years ago, and with major Western nations defaulting on their debts there are plenty of good reasons to buy an asset that doesn’t depend on the solvency of an ETF, bank, or government. Right?
If history repeats itself, and it usually does, then there is good reason to be a little leery about all this exuberance. I recall not long ago the dizzying dot-com days between 1995-2000 where “ordinary people” were day-trading Internet stocks and making a killing. And how can we forget the heady days when real estate was skyrocketing and was a slam dunk moneymaking proposition. People much smarter than I made compelling arguments explaining why these investments were bulletproof and headed straight to the moon. Well, we all know how those stories ended, don’t we?
Inflation certainly seems to be the logical byproduct from running the printing presses 24/7 and flooding the markets with liquidity. When currencies are getting debased they usually go down and gold makes sense as a safe haven. But currencies are all relative, and in a world that is hemorrhaging, convulsing, and deleveraging, the currency that goes down the least in comparison to its rivals will be the winner. As counter-intuitive as it may sound, the U.S. Dollar just might just be the cleanest dirty shirt in the laundry basket, and if this turns out to be true, then the price of gold will likely fall.
Conventional wisdom makes me queasy so naturally I get skeptical whenever the majority is united in certainty and enthusiasm about anything. I don’t doubt we’ll see inflation in our future, I think it’s inevitable at some point, and I don’t doubt gold will be a good long term investment, but what I doubt is the consensus opinion on how this next financial crisis is going to unfold. I just don’t think things are going to play out the way everyone expects, and my contrarian instincts tell me that we are going to get the unexpected.
Expect the Unexpected
The majority of economists believe inflation or hyperinflation is in our near future. I disagree with this hypothesis.
The two historical periods I believe are relevant are the U.S. during the Great Depression and the Japanese experience over the last twenty years. In Japan, nominal GDP remained flat for 20 years even though total debt as a percentage of GDP went from 50% to 200%. The economic story was similar in the U.S. in the Depression. After falling dramatically, nominal GNP came back up at the end of the 1930s to where it was in 1929, so there was no growth for the entire period. If not for the war, that would have lasted for a longer time. After 20 years in which most developed countries have seen leverage going to record levels, I think there are many, many years of de-leveraging to go. Governments have tried to step in to mitigate the pain of that process, but if there was a simple and pain free solution it would have been implemented by now. You can already see attention in Europe turning to cutting spending and raising taxes. I expect we will see the same in the U.S. in the coming years. With a multi-trillion dollar deficit and near-0% interest rates, the government and the Fed has no bullets left.
My conclusion is that a crisis of confidence will cause the economy de-lever. We are in store for along period of economic tribulation similar to the 20 year long malaise Japan has experienced or that of the Great Depression in the U.S.. I do not think the next phase of economic pain is going to bring rising prices and 1970’s style inflation.
The reason deflation and depression is not on our national consciousness is because very few of us have ever experienced it. Most people living today weren’t alive in the 1930’s during the last time we experienced deflation. They’ve never experienced it, so they naturally don’t fear it, and unconsciously believe it cannot happen. This is called the “normalcy bias” – when otherwise intelligent people believe it can’t happen because it never happened before. This is a dangerous mindset to have.
Our record levels of leverage and debt will eventually rupture our over inflated bubble. When the bubble bursts there will rush of air whistling by us as massive deleveraging and a forced liquidations take place in all asset classes. Real estate, cars, boats, clothing, and food … everything falls, including gold. I think we will experience a violent period of deveraging followed by a decades long period of Japanese style deflation.
Deflation equals falling prices, which is far worse than inflation. Deflation will cause massive deleveraging and a forced liquidation in all asset classes. Assets worldwide will get marked down and this will drive all prices down causing a corrosive effect on people’s wealth. During deflationary times people stop spending which causes a collapse in demand. Those who have bank-financed assets (like home mortgages) are faced with a rising debt burden because you end up repaying an amount far in excess of the falling value of the asset. During deflation people save more, don’t borrow, and cut consumer spending, and this will hit the U.S. especially hard because 80% of our economy is based of consumer spending. When consumers don’t spend, companies’ profits shrink, and when companies earn less this always leads to layoffs and higher unemployment, which exacerbates and prolongs the terrible economy.
Governments greatest fear is not inflation, it’s deflation, and they will do almost anything to prevent this from happening. Central banks respond to even the smallest hints of deflation by lowering interest rates to encourage people to spend, but with rates at near-0% today they have very little leverage right now to manipulate the economy.
Once deflation takes hold governments interventions and monetary policies are less effective because people can’t be “stimulated” to borrow money to buy a depreciating asset. So governments would rather cause hyperinflation by debasing our currencies and decimating the purchasing power of our dollars (as the FED is doing right now) than to see deflation raise its ugly head, but at this point Government may have little ability to control where our economy goes next.
After 30 years of partying like rock stars and spending like there’s tomorrow, the tomorrow we all hoped would never come is here today … and the bill is due.
As terrifying as deflation scenario is, the political risk that would likely accompany deflation is even more frightening. When economies shrink and widespread deleveraging takes place, tax revenues fall precipitously. Bankrupt governments already on life-support become increasingly desperate and aggressive as they scavenge for revenue. Under the pretense that they must “save the economy” they will devise new and creative ways of generating new tax revenues. This means that there is a high risk that any monetary asset you hold domestically could be a target of confiscation through increased taxation or even seizure. In addition, capital controls would likely be implemented, which would limit or eliminate your ability to protect your money by sending it abroad. If enacted, your capital would be trapped inside the U.S. at the mercy of whatever taxing and regulating schemes the government might concoct. Although you might be able to leave the country, your assets might not be able to leave with you.
Right about now I know what Harry Truman felt like, when he said, “I never did give them hell. I just told the truth, and they thought it was hell.”
Yeah, happy days!
Battening Down the Hatches
As dark as those clouds on the horizon appear to be I still remain positive, not so much about America’s long-term prospects, but rather, my ability to weather the storm should good ole ship USA capsize and sink.
I’m not smart enough nor am I dumb enough to predict the timing the storm, but in looking at the gathering clouds it seems evident a storm is on it’s way, and when that day of reckoning comes there will be very little warning.
I spent my young teen years as a Boy Scout and I recall reciting the “be prepared” mantra. Always good advice. Now that doesn’t mean I’m preparing for armageddon - I’m not digging a bomb shelter, buying guns and ammo, or stocking up on canned food (although I think there are worse ideas) because planning for the end times is a little extreme.
By my way of thinking we have three options: We can prepare for inflation, prepare for deflation, or we can stick our heads in the sand and do nothing. The “head in the sand” approach might sound compelling, especially after reading the exposition above, but the risk of inaction may be far greater than the risk of action. Doing somthing and moving forward is better than being immobilized and doing nothing. Sir Winston Churchill said, “If you are going through hell, keep going.” I don’t know about you, but should things go all to hell I want to take proactive and positive actions right now to protect me and mine.
Inflation is the consensus view. Deflation is contrarian view. If you doubt the consensus and are inclined to expect the unexpected, then here are some things you may consider doing:
1). Save Money: During deflation, good old-fashioned cash is your best friend. When assets are getting marked down and everything is going on sale, those with cash on hand will be able to scoop up some great bargains. You will have some dry powder on hand to invest in depressed real estate, selected stocks at fire sale prices, and gold and commodities as they rebound. Cash is king … especially in the midst of a global meltdown.
2). Get Debt Free: Getting out of debt is a good idea regardless of what is happening in the economy, but paying off your debts is a critical move to make when there is deflation. Debt is particularly corrosive and punitive in a deflationary environment because when values and prices are falling you don’t want to be stuck blowing your valuable dollars on interest payments and bank installments on stuff you bought yesterday that is falling in value today. You get bupkus, zero, zip, nada, nothing for the money you spend on interest, and if you are paying interest on assets that are depreciating in value, you are going to be in a real world of hurt.
2). Sell your Assets: Cars, real estate, stocks…everything, even gold and commodities will go down as the world de-levers. Selling assets and going to cash doesn’t make sense in an inflationary environment because your cash becomes worth less, but it does in a deflationary environment. Some might want to hold on and wait until the direction of the economy comes clear, however by the time it’s obvious to everyone, the gig will be up and it will be too late do anything. On the flip side, the problem with selling now is assets prices might rise from here and you could miss the move up if you sell too early. Timing the market is tricky business and has always been a fool’s game. If one were to err on the side of caution, then protecting against downside loss would be better than hanging on in the hope of seeing some upside gain. If you were convinced the world was headed for a melt down and prices would eventually follow, then going to cash would be one way to protect yourself. Every family’s circumstances are unique so it is impractical to apply a “one size shoe” strategy to everyone’s situation, but for some people this might be a very good time to convert your assets to cash, stay liquid, downsize your lifestyle, and rent for a while.
3). Diversify your Income: Starting a your own side business or figuring out some other way to create another source of income can’t hurt. This is smart idea in the best of times, but in a depressed economic environment when companies are getting lean and slashing jobs, you don’t want to be left without a chair when the music stops. If you sign the back of the paycheck and your only source of income is your 9-5 gig, you are vulnerable.
4). Diversify geographically: Get some of your money outside the U.S.. I’m not advocating tax evasion, I’m talking about tax planning. It’s important not only diversify among asset classes but also to diversify where you hold those assets. Having some of your funds elsewhere (including owning real estate overseas) can provide a good hedge should the greenback crash or if U.S. goes to hell in a hand basket. If the U.S. Government attempts to confiscate your hard earned capital through increased taxation (which is inevitable), you will have some of your funds beyond the reach of those sticky fingered politicians back in Washington DC. If the U.S. Government decides to implement capital controls in the future, waiting to diversify outside of the U.S. will become far more difficult.
5). Invest for Deflation: This is not for the faint of heart because it entails risking some of your capital during a time when it’s important that you preserve it, but If you are sophisticated investor and have a high tolerance for risk, there are many creative ways to hedge and even profit in a deflationary environment.
It should go without saying the ideas and opinions herein should not be should be considered a recommendation to buy or sell any stock or security. Nothing contained herein constitutes financial, legal, or tax advice, so before you open a Swiss bank account, bet the ranch on shorting the S&P or sell the family home, I strongly recommend that you consult with your financial adviser or tax professional. I assume no responsibility should your wife decide to leave you on account of you wanting to relocate to an underground bunker in Dead Horse North Dakota (If you currently live in Dead Horse I’m very sorry - you are already in a deep depression). If you are inclined to rely solely on the findings in this article for all your financial decisions, I ask that you please select the ‘unsubscribe button’ and go back to watching The Desperate Housewives. In the event you choose to go back to watching The Desperate Housewives you should consider yourself warned: Long term exposure to this show may result in headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, hammertoe, head lice, cardiac arrhythmia, hemorrhoids, a darkened soul, diminished IQ, weight gain, lower back pain, and no life. J
We all march to the beat of our own paradigm. A paradigm (as it is used here in a non-scientific context) refers to the framework or pattern of thought we use to determine our perception of events. Our paradigms are infused with prejudices, assumptions, expectations, and beliefs, and from that flow our values, ethics, and rules. Our paradigm determines how we interpret the world around us and how we interact with it. Our paradigm is the lens through which we see life.
Have you ever questioned your paradigm? What if everything you know is wrong? Have ever thought long and hard about why you believe what you believe? Have you ever considered where or how you got your paradigm? Was your paradigm created as a result of a well thought out master plan? Have you ever deconstructed your paradigm, consciously inspecting its constituent parts in order to determine their origin, usefulness, or truthfulness? Likely not.
Whose Paradigm is it Anyway?
Using someone else’s paradigm is like wearing someone else’s prescription eyeglasses – they provide a source of clarity for one person but leave the other with blurred vision and headaches.
Unfortunately most of us occupy a paradigm that has been handed down to us from others versus created from our own consciousness, therefore it is not suited for us. Must of us are brainwashed by a “system” that is only concerned with your obedience and compliance, as well as it’s own propagation and survival. Your paradigm has likely been foisted upon you from teachers, parents, church leaders, corporations, society, and our association. We are tattooed in our cradles with the paradigm of our tribe. In other words, your paradigm is probably not your own original holistic custom creation built from the ground up, rather it is a mishmash of prejudices, beliefs, influences, and philosophical truths we’ve inherited from others and adopted as our own.
We are a composite of all that has shaped and influenced us to this point in our life. This is inherent to our nature and neither good nor bad. The millions of seeds that have been sewn into our fertile minds are neither good nor bad - they are amoral. It’s not until pressed into our minds and given meaning do they become right or wrong, true or false, moral or immoral. The problem comes when we unquestioning adopt the definitions and meanings others give to those seeds. When we allow others to give meaning to our life’s circumstances and experiences we fail to evolve and become what what we where destined to be. We end up thinking what others want us to think. We devolve into what others want us to become.
We all have a unique calling to answer for, but we are unable to hear and respond to that call if we are rendered deaf and dumb by a paradigm infused primarily with the ideologies, beliefs, and expectations from others. Providence cannot move in our life if we are living someone else’s. Our dharma cannot be fulfilled unless we are operating from our own unique perspective. The Kabbalists believe that above every blade of grass is an angel crying “Grow, Grow, Grow!” If our values, rules, and ethics come from outside of us instead of from within, our personal and spiritual growth will be stunted, and our great potential will never be realized.
Buying others pre-owned paradigm is not much different from buying a high mileage used car sight unseen. We inevitably end up taking possession of the previous owner’s problems. We become an unhappy owner of an unreliable clunker that has a propensity to break down and is fraught with costly quirks. This lemon is sure to be a source of constant pain and frustration, and will leave us stranded just when we need it the most. It will never take us where we want to go, much less get us there in comfort or peace of mind.
The Bad Paradigm
Bertrand Russell said, “A man is a credulous animal, and must believe something; in the absence of good grounds for belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones”. A bad belief is one that is not our own and doesn’t serve us. It’s important to ask ourselves not if our paradigm true; rather does our paradigm serve us? Is our paradigm preventing us from experiencing the happiness and contentedness we desire? Is our truth keeping us from knowing peace? Is the ideology we espouse ours, or are we simply regurgitating the opinions of others?
What you believe is not as important as why you believe. What you believe is your paradigm. Examining the reasons why you believe helps determine whether you should shift or revamp your paradigm. In the end, what matters is not the idea you hold but the depth at which you hold it.
Very few things are as important as taking a good hard look at your own core beliefs, rules, and truths, and asking yourself if they are serving you. The paradigm you’ve been caring around with you for years may have worked well for your parents but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you. Your family, those whom you attend church with, your coworkers and friends may have been well served by a particular paradigm, and perhaps parroting theirs once served you well too, but the real questions is, is this paradigm working for you now? Your paradigm may have been beneficial and needed at one time in your life, but you’ve grown, evolved and changed, therefore those old assumptions, beliefs and rules may no longer serve a purpose in your life, or worse, they may be hurting you.
Putting Your Paradigm on Trial
If you where brought before a judge and jury in a court of law tasked with goal of defending your own paradigm, could you make a cogent and pragmatic case for why you believe what you believe? Or would your defense rest on, “This is just what I’ve always believed?” Would you build your case on the foundation of, “Because this is all I’ve ever known?” Would you dare say in a court of law, “But your honor, everyone in my neighborhood, city, country, thinks this way?” Or would you plead your case with, “But this is what my church, parents, and authority figures, etc. told me?” If your life was hanging in the balance (and it actually is) could you save yourself by defending your paradigm with a well-reasoned and succinct argument? I’d suggest that as a grown adult, if you cant explain why you believe what you believe, then you have no right to that belief.
Children have the liberty of believing in anything they choose without just cause. Santa Clause, the Tooth Fairy, monsters under their beds, anything and everything is fair game. It is not required, nor expected, that a child should be able to justify their fantasies or explain their beliefs. But we grow up and (most of us) awaken to the realization that believing in a tiny winged fairy who comes while we are sleeping and is willing to trade cold hard cash for your bloody old tooth is simply not realistic. You conclude you need a new paradigm, one that you can actually support, so you search for the real answer, and in life when you seek you shall find. You soon discover it was not a tiny fairy, but your parents, who exchanged the tooth for cash.
So back at the court room with your paradigm is on trial. If you couldn’t defend your beliefs a judge would have no choice but to find you guilty of theft. In the absence of a cogent argument to the contrary and based on the overwhelming evidence you would be charged with stealing your paradigm and found guilty of not thinking for yourself.
Getting it Sorted Out
Nobody including me can tell you what you should believe or define for you what is right or wrong. This is not about passing judgment on your beliefs nor is it about questioning your morality. You are entitled to believe whatever you choose for good or ill. What I am challenging you to do is strive for a higher level of thinking and as a result a higher quality of life. My intent here is to get you to validate the accuracy of your compass, not necessarily change your direction. You very well may be headed the in right direction, but how the hell do you know unless you stop moving for a minute and take inventory of where you’ve been and consider where you’re going? My goal is to get you to think, to clean the dirty lens you’re seeing life through, and to consider your construct. My objective here is to inspire you to ruminate and meditate on what is true, what is right, what is real, and what is best for you.
We seldom question our beliefs, much less those we really believe. We never think to examine the beliefs that are categorically true - the ones we are most certain about - but those are the very beliefs we should contemplate most deeply and consider most carefully, because they are the ones that will determine not only our destination but also the quality of your journey.
Nobody can tell you what is true or right for you - others can only tell you what is true and right for them. You must do this hard work in isolation and you must remain independent of the good opinions of others while you’re doing it. Only you can plumb the depth of your soul and discover your own truth.
To the Bottom of Things
So, ask yourself, is your current paradigm working for you? The easiest way to tell is to honestly and sincerely answer the following questions: Are you truly happy? Are you at peace? Are you content? If you cannot answer with an unequivocal “Yes”, then you need to look carefully at the likely source of your angst: Your paradigm.
Some might suggest that they’d rather adhere to “the truth” than compromise for the sake of personal happiness, peacefulness and contentedness. That’s a noble choice, but if you choose to be a martyr for your truth, you’d better be damn sure your truth is true. Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche contended that convictions are far more dangerous enemies of the truth than are lies. The fact is most folks loose their life while they are still alive because of their flawed paradigm. In the extreme, history is rife with tragic examples of those who have wreaked havoc in the world for the sake of their twisted version of the truth. Genocide has been committed, books have been burned, nonconformists and agitators of the status quo have been hung, and wars have been fought all over “the truth”. Human beings are perhaps never more frightening than when they are convinced beyond doubt that they are right.
There’s a scene in the first Wall Street movie, where Bud Fox (the now infamous Charlie Sheen) is pitching a set of concessions to his father Carl (Martin Sheen) who leads a group of union representatives at Blue Star Airlines. When his father disagrees with his sons plan, a heated exchange follows where Bud confronts his father and asks him, “And what if you’re wrong, Dad? What if one day, the sun didn’t rise in the East and birds didn’t fly south in winter and for once in your life your compass was off? Huh?” He continued … “Are you willing to wreck your men’s future? My future? Please…Dad. Think. Be practical, for a change!” “I’m begging you!”
And what if you’re paradigm is wrong? What if your compass is off? Are you willing to wreck your future? Please … think!
One of the best questions you can ask yourself in any given situation or conflict is would you rather be happy, or would you rather be right? Rightness and happiness are often in conflict with one another. Enlightened people choose happiness. One of the outward characteristics of those operating from an effective paradigm is they are genuinely happy, at peace with their lot in life, and they are content most of the time. You’ll also find they bring joy and happiness (not crazy and drama) to those around them.
They are in full possession of a paradigm that is not defined by some arbitrary set of standards or philosophical truths handed down from on high or from outside of them, rather their paradigm has been hard won through deep introspection and thoughtful contemplation. Their paradigm is theirs, they own it outright, and thus, they are free of the internal conflicts that so often manifest themselves as unhealthy dysfunction in others lives.
The best way to evaluate your paradigm is by this standard: Are you happy, peaceful, and content? This is the most effective plumb line and yardstick to judge the usefulness and truthfulness of your paradigm.
Ask yourself …
Does your credo bring joy to you and those around you, or does it create a constant source of conflict for you and those you love?
Is your dogma a source of freedom and peace, or is it inhibiting and a source of guilt?
Does your ideology bring you love and peace, or is it a cause of angst and anxiety?
Does your doctrine allow for you to feel happy in this present moment, or does it leave you feeling inadequate, undeserving, and not worthy of happiness right here right now?
Are your expectations reasonable and easy for you and others to live up to, or are they the cause of stress and discomfort for you and those around you?
Do your convictions allow for you to feel the contentedness that comes from “enough”, or do you frequently feel the anxiousness that comes from “more” – more to be done, more to be accomplished, more to be achieved, more to be acquired?
Do your rules allow you to be yourself, and to be free, or do they make you feel trapped, as if you are living someone else’s life?
A Portrait of a Healthy Paradigm
A person with a healthy paradigm possesses characteristics unique in the world. While they may look very much like everyone else, they have distinct qualities. They do not fit neatly into any roles, job descriptions, geographic locations, educational levels or financial statistics. There is a different quality about them, but the difference is not discernible in the traditional external factors by which we generally classify people. They are a varied group and yet they all share the same traits.
They think and act spontaneously rather than from fear based on past experiences. They live in the now and have an unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment. They are strikingly independent, out of the nest, and living their own life. They accept themselves without complaint and refuse to apologize for what they are. They are not rebels, but they do make their own choices even if they conflict with everyone else’s. Their patriotism knows no boundaries and their values are not localized or geographic in nature. They do not identify with their neighborhood, city, state, or country, because they see themselves as part of the human race and connected to everyone else in the world. They have no interest whatsoever in judging others nor are they critical or harsh with themselves. They feel no need to be understood nor do they feel compelled to interpret the actions of others. They are free of internal conflict, petty worries, and feelings of anxiousness. They are quick to apologize when they realize they’re wrong, but feel no need to apologize to curry favor with another. They love themselves unconditionally so therefore they are able to easily give and receive love from others. And most significantly, they are happy, at peace, and content.
I was talking with a friend of mine the other night. We were trading war stories, as guys are apt to do. He was telling me about a problem he was having at work. The circumstances are not relevant, but the fact that he was having the same problem again is. What occurred to me mid-story was that I’ve heard this tale of woe before, as a matter of fact, this is the exact same problem he’s had every year…for years.
I gave him plenty of sh*t for reorganizing the deck chairs on his sinking ship while refusing to patch the hole in the hull. He laughed, but disagreed; stating in effect, that it wasn’t his responsibility to fix the problem and it wasn’t his fault that there was a hole in the boat. Non the less, he once again fixed the problem, so he felt it was something of a personal victory.
I give my friend a great deal of credit for his positively and resourcefulness, but I guess my definition of “success” differs from his. To me, success in a given circumstance is not determined by how effective you are dealing with a problem; rather, success is determined by not always having to deal with the same problem.
It is my contention that my friend has never learned whatever lesson he’s supposed to learn, because he’s still addressing the same issues today as he was yesterday …and last week, and last year, and so on – so it is as if he’s never dealt with it at all.
Life and Learning
Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. Life, therefore, is a classroom where important lessons are divvied out every day. I believe if we learn the lessons life intended we pass our classes and graduate to the next level. On the other hand, if we fail to learn our lessons we are held back and are destined to repeat the class. Real life does not resemble the public school system - it doesn’t care if we ever get out of first grade. If we fail to learn what we are supposed to learn we will not be allowed to graduate and move on to the next level. We will be required to take the same exam over and again until we pass. It’s not until we finally get it are we free to advance to higher levels in life.
Unfortunately, there are many grown adults, who out of arrogance or ignorance, refuse to take responsibility for the results of their life. They sit in the back row of the classroom, ignoring their teachers and spurning their education, so they flunk out of every class and fail to move beyond elementary school. These hapless students remain in a state of suspended animation, spending their entire life in the same class being taught the same lesson repeated over and over again.
If the purpose of living is learning, then the reason for learning is growth, and our minds, unlike our bodies, can continue growing as we continue to live. Personal growth is the doorway to freedom, and learning is the key that unlocks the door, but only you can push that door open.
Responsibility and Growth
The importance of accepting responsibility for your life cannot be underestimated.
Throughout history the mind has been likened to a garden, and thoughts compared to seeds. The act of accepting responsibility is like churning nutrient rich compost into the fertile soil of your mind. Responsibility opens your mind preparing it for the seed while warding off the weeds and the pests that destroy the garden. In a fertile mind Ideas, distinctions, and lessons take root, grow, and flourish. Taking responsibility replaces an empty mind with an open one, and only an open mind is one that is capable of learning and growing.
Responsibility shifts your orientation and locus of control from outward to inward, and away from justifying, blaming and excuse making, towards understanding and a search for the truth.
Those whom exhibit the virtue of responsibility approach their previous actions and omissions with humility. They realize their problems are their own, so they do not spend their energy deflecting criticisms or assigning blame elsewhere for the circumstances of their life. They realize that every effect has a cause, and they are willing co-creators in everything that happens in their life … even the bad stuff.
Accepting responsibility is not self-defeating behavior nor is it an admission of guilt. Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it”. They accept responsibility for their failings, foibles, and shortcomings without explanation or self-incrimination, thus they learn and grow from every lesson life brings them. They accept themselves unconditionally and without equivocation, realizing that taking responsibility for everything about their life is not a form of weakness; rather it is a form of strength. It is an obvious and outward expression of self-acceptance. It is the recognition that they have the power over their life and circumstances.
Responsibility means ownership, and what you own you control.
Maturity and Responsibility
The acceptance of responsibility is the hallmark characteristic of emotional maturity. Maturity is not defined by a certain age; it is defined by the acceptance of responsibility. Maturity has little to do with how old you are. We all know young teens that act like adults, and fifty-year-old men that act like children. You are mature to the exact degree you are willing to accept responsibility for your life.
As an adult, accepting responsibility for the circumstances of your life does not make you a victim or blameworthy, nor is it self-hating or self-rejecting behavior. Accepting responsibility is the recognition that you are the captain of your ship and in control of your destiny. This kind of self-determination is a sign of a fully functioning person, and lies in direct contrast to the weakness shown by those who seek to pin the blame for their lot in life on their mother, their boss, the president, or whomever else they can find as a convenient scape goat for their problems.
Nothing is more empowering than the realization that you are fully in control of your life. This shifts your locus of control from external to internal, and in so doing takes you out of the passenger seat – placing you squarely in charge of direction you take your life.
Norman Cousins, in his book The Anatomy of an Illness, recounts his personal experiences while working in close collaboration with his doctor to overcome a crippling and supposedly irreversible disease, and illustrates the life-saving and ultimately life-prolonging benefits to be gained by taking responsibility for one’s own well-being. He found that those who accepted personal responsibility for their illness, by acknowledging that their diet, lack of exercise, or lifestyle may have been contributing factors that lead to their poor health, had a far better chance of healing.
Fully functioning people operating at the highest levels of maturity do not fix blame they fix the problem. They are internal in their personal orientation, and they refuse to ascribe responsibility to others for what they are or the problems in their life. Similarly, they assign responsibility where it belongs. They are so busy being effective in their own lives that they have no time for the petty connivances that occupy most people’s lives. They are doers, not critics or complainers.
They are free from guilt and all the attendant anxiety that goes with using any present moments in being immobilized over past events. They admit to making mistakes, and they vow to avoid repeating certain behaviors that are counterproductive in any way, but they do not waste their time wishing they had or hadn’t done something. They don’t lament the past and they refuse to get seduced into manipulative conversations with those who look to shift blame or make them feel guilty. They recognize that no amount of feeling bad will alter the past. They recognize they are imperfect human beings, not perfect deities, so instead of feeling remorseful about their past, they choose to be thankful for the lessons of the past. They are people who are moving on and moving up.
Immaturity to Enlightenment
Below you will find a humorous but revealing look at the evolution of our development, from immaturity to enlightenment. Can you identify which chapter of your life you are in?
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost. It’s hopeless. I am dejected.
This isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in this same place.
This isn’t my fault.
It takes a long time to get out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it there.
I still fall in… it’s a habit… but,
my eyes are wide open.
I know where I am.
I am responsible.
I get out immediately.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.
I walk down another street
In the early part of our development our minds are feeble, we are emotionally immature, and we are unwilling or incapable of accepting responsibility for our circumstances, as a result life is difficult for us. Because we fail to learn we find ourselves right back in that same situation again and again. When we finally acknowledge our errors and accept responsibility for our life, our minds open, we internalize our experiences, we find meaning and purpose in everyday events, and we begin to grow. With each new challenge life brings with it new opportunities for us gain wisdom and become fully functioning people. As we graciously welcome each new day, the promise of unlimited abundance is revealed and our awareness increases. As we continue to develop and evolve our minds crackle with possibility and expand in every direction. We now we begin to function at a higher level of consciousness where we no longer need to contend with every “hole in the street”. We make enlightened choices and life seems to flow effortlessly as we follow a higher the path.
Putting it all Together
Everyone’s circumstances are different and everyone has their own unique story, but regardless of your past, as an adult, you must accept full responsibility for your life from this point forward, for if you don’t, life stands still and your circumstances remain.
Suffering and unhappiness is not your fate, nor are the problems in your life the result of the Gods playing a cosmic prank on you. If you are not living the life you choose, the fault lies not with the government, nor with your boss, and the Almighty is not punishing you for all your sins. You are at fault. You are responsible.
Accepting full responsibility for your life moves your personal orientation from external with a belief that “they” are in control of you, to internal knowingness that you are in control of you. Your old pitiful childlike-self dies away, and a new empowered fully self-actualized adult emerges reborn, and with that comes a new hopefulness that springs from the sense of authority you have over your life, and it is this hope for your future that gives you incredible power in the present.
The acceptance of responsibility strikes like a lightning bolt to the brain. You awaken to the realization that you are capable of far more than you ever imagined possible. You are no longer compelled to feel sorry for yourself or make excuses for your life. You don’t need pharmaceuticals or alcohol to dull your senses, nor do you require psychotherapy at an expensive retreat in the mountains in order to sort out your problems. You own your life and have complete control over the direction you take it. Accepting responsibility means you control your own destiny.
Your life will change for the better when you admit to yourself that you are responsible. “I am responsible!” is a self-confession that not only is critical to your personal evolution and growth, but it is the most incredibly cathartic and therapeutic gift you can give yourself.
Your personal renaissance is marked by the day that you quit blaming everyone else and stopped BS’ing yourself. You emerge from your self-incurred immaturity at the very moment you take full and complete responsibility for your life, including all that it is. You alone are the master of your destiny and the ruler of your fate.
One of the best decisions you can make is to ignore most of the advice you receive of how to be happy. It’s up to you to decide if you want to ignore mine as well.
It’s not easy to turn a deaf-ear because we are deloused with personal development experts propagating the latest happiness research and tactics on how to be happy.
There are as many strategies on how to achieve happiness as there are psychologists promoting them.
There is however one essential truth about happiness that is worth paying close attention to because it trumps all the pop-psychology and expert opinion on the topic, and that is this: The pursuit of happiness is the chief cause of unhappiness.
Ignore the Experts
Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project , has the unfortunate distinction of being the inspiration for this article.
The book made it into our home camouflaged in shiny red and green wrapping paper on courtesy of Santa Clause on Christmas morning. My wife decided she’d bring the book along with her on our trip to Mexico. She was anxious to lounge by the pool with a good read, so as soon as we got settled under the tropical Mayan Riviera sun, she enthusiastically dove into the book. By day number two I noticed she seemed restless with the book and began to loose interest, and by day three she was finished with the book – not because she had finished reading it – she was just done with it. She couldn’t read it anymore.
Now my wife is voracious reader who could fly through War and Peace in just a few days so I was surprised to see her struggling mid way through a 289 page hardback. She’s also a naturally happy and optimistic person who rarely has a cross word to say and always finds the best in everything and everybody, so when she described the book as “narcissistic drivel” and “redundant ramblings about happiness” it caught my attention. But her most intriguing critique was this: “Happiness shouldn’t be a project!”
“Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy”. ~ Robert Brault
So now my curiosity is piqued and lacking anything better to do (or read) I decided I’d adopt the orphaned blue book for myself, and not far into it I came to the same grinding halt and decided I too would put it up for adoption. Phrases like “Studies show . . . ” appeared in the book a mind numbing 500 times, and passages like the following made me wince in pain: “ [Jamie and I] hugged – for at least six seconds, which I happened to know from my research, is the minimum time necessary to promote the flow of oxytocin and serotonin, mood-boosting chemicals that promote bonding. The moment of tension passed.” Ouch!
I could go on, but I’ll spare the world more of the same tedium as well as my amateurish critique.
Some might suggest I am being hypercritical. George Bernard Shaw, who was criticized for many of the controversial views he held, reasoned, “The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who do not have it”. It’s not my objective to be controversial for the sake of it, I just have a fundamental disagreement with much of the academic research on the topic, including the assumptions put forth in the Happiness Project.
I have no personal axe to grind with Mrs. Rubin as I’m sure she’s a wonderful person, and there is little doubt she is also very smart - which might be part of the problem. Ernest Hemingway, author, journalist and Nobel laureate, knew his share of smart people, and he said, “Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.”
Truth is I found some of Gretchen’s revelations during her yearlong search for happiness to be entertaining and enlightening, however the thing I appreciated most about the book is it really did get me thinking about the subject of happiness, and the one thought that kept returning to me was this: Is Gretchen happier having spent that entire year searching for happiness? Did she ever find what she was looking for? And for that matter does anyone who seeks happiness ever find it.
For me, the single greatest lesson revealed in the pages of this “how-to-be-happy book” was that the search for happiness is the chief source of unhappiness, a lesson which was entirely unintended by its author.
The Paradox of Happiness
I am convinced that those who dwell on their personal happiness are unwitting conscripts into what I’ll refer to as the “Unhappiness Project”.
The Unhappiness Project is born the moment we begin looking for our happiness, but the frustrating game of hide and seek always ends the same way, with the participant feeling worse than they did when they began. It is a vexing paradox that those who embark on a life project or similar charade in an fruitless attempt find their happiness are far more likely to find unhappiness to be their constant companion.
With happiness, unlike in other pursuits, knocking will NOT open the door, and if you seek you will NOT find. This is because happiness is an ends value, not a means to an end. Happiness is a feeling and state of mind – it is the end result of all that we all seek, but it is not the means to accomplishing this end.
There is little doubt the “happiness-seekers” have more head-knowledge about the topic that anyone else, but in their haste to understand it and their ambition to find it, they fail to experience it. The cruel irony is that seeking happiness has exactly the opposite of its intended effect.
“Happiness is never stopping to think if you are”. ~ Palmer Sondreal
Happiness does not respond to the typical strategies used for success and achievement. You cannot draw it into your life through the law of attraction. You cannot set a goal to “be happy” and then work extra hard this year to accomplish it. It does not acquiesce to your ambition and will not roll at your feet in ecstasy if you unlock the “ten keys” to finding it. The more you dwell on your own happiness the more unhappy you’ll become. If you stalk happiness it will allude you. “Studies show” that every minute you spend looking for it you loose sixty seconds of happiness. In fact, the more you focus on it and think about it the harder it would be to enjoy it even if you could find it.
You set yourself up for frustration and disillusionment if happiness is your goal. Happiness is illusive, and will not be the subject of your enterprising plans or schemes. It refuses to be part of your task-list or become a “project” that you can complete, nor will it stand still long enough for you to target it as location-dependent destination you can arrive at. Happiness is choice. It is the manner by which you travel through life.
Happiness is the simple harmony between the man and the life he leads. It is something you become aware of while pursuing other things. Happiness therefore is completely incidental.
The happiest people we know rarely ever think about their happiness. They just are. Happy people are unconcerned with documenting and measuring their levels of happiness, and don’t have so much leisure time on their hands that they spend their days inspecting their navel and wondering if they are happy or not. It’s a bitter pill for the so-called experts to swallow that the happiest people know next to nothing about the psychology of happiness. And those who profess to know the most about the topic are somehow the most tortured, distressed, and discouraged people around. They may put on a happy shiny persona, but they miss their share of happiness not because they are incapable of experiencing it, but because they didn’t know it when they saw it.
“Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so.” ~ John Stuart Mill
W. Beran Wolfe wrote this beautiful passage in his book, How to be a Happy Person : “ If you observe a really happy man you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double dahlias in his garden, or looking for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi desert. He will not be searching for happiness as if it were a collar button that has rolled under the radiator. He will not be striving for it as a goal in itself. He will have become aware that he is happy in the course of living life twenty-four crowded hours of the day”.
I find it curious that those who have traveled the long road in search of happiness pass many happy people headed the opposite direction. I’m sure they must ask themselves, “Where are those people going?” What the “happy travelers” headed the opposite way seem to know, that those inquiring minds in search of happiness fail to understand, is that happiness is about being on the road, not about the direction you’re going. A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery even while on a detour precisely because they realize their life is about the journey and not the destination or a place. In the end, it doesn’t matter where you’re going or which direction you’re headed so long as you have something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.
Want Happiness? Fuggeddaboudit!
You want to be happy? Then forget about it. I mean, literally, stop thinking about it.
Happiness is always a by-product of something else. It can never be a goal in and of itself. Happiness comes as a side effect from losing yourself while engaged in some other endeavor. It arrives as a result of you doing something you enjoy or losing yourself in work that compels you. It is the consequence of having something to love. It is the result of having something to hope for. It is an indirect effect that will not respond to your direct cause. Happiness is found in your everyday mode of consciousness. It sneaks up on you when least expect it and aren’t thinking about it. If you search for what is right, happiness will come on its own.
“On the whole, the happiest people seem to be those who have no particular cause for being happy except that they are so”. ~ William R. Inge
Happiness is not something that can be demanded from life. If you pursue happiness you’ll never find it. The peculiar distinction about happiness is the harder you try to acquire it and the more frequently you contemplate it the more likely it is that the only brand of happiness you’ll find is (un)happiness.
When it comes right down to it, unhappiness is a selfish emotion. These undesirable feelings can only occur as a result of thinking about yourself. Find a willing participant in some altruistic pursuit who is engaged in thinking about something other than their own lot in life, serving something outside of themselves, or focused on someone else’s needs other than their own, and you’re likely to find someone who is generally very happy, or at the very least will have developed a severe case of amnesia and completely forgotten about their own petty concerns.
“Give a man health and a course to steer, and he’ll never stop to trouble about whether he’s happy or not”. ~ George Bernard Shaw
Happiness, like love, is beautiful and enchanting, but it’s fickle, unapproachable, and easily frightened away by bold and aggressive attempts to capture it. Ignore it a little, flirt with it some, courted it and romance it, and you may be able to coax it out of it’s hiding place. Focus your attention elsewhere and it will come softly upon you like a misty rain, and without realizing it soon your river will flood over its banks.
The magic and mystery of happiness is that it is created out of intentional inattention. The art of happiness … is largely the art of ambivalence. Instead of thinking about your self and your personal happiness, concentrate your attention elsewhere and wait patiently … happiness will find you.
The Butterfly Effect
Nathaniel Hathorne and Henry David Thoreau didn’t agree on much, but when it came to happiness they where in one accord on the topic. Hathorne said, “Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” Thoreau agreed, stating, “ Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder”.
These eminent philosophers and prolific writers are national treasures. Their elegant message encourages us to ignore happiness (butterfly) and simply live our life. By doing so happiness will find us. They admonish us about the futility of seeking happiness. We would all be well advised to follow their wise words of advice and live their creed.
“If you want to be happy, be”. ~Leo Tolstoy
If you’re compelled to embark on a project in order to find your happiness, I have some advice for you: Don’t!
Pursuing happiness amounts to nothing more than an absurd wild-goose-chase that will surely end in disappointment. Yes, there are countless academic studies providing seemingly conclusive evidence on how you can find happiness, but for every one of them there is an equal number of studies that contradicts those findings, which reminds me of the adage: Nothing is more tragic than seeing a beautiful scientific hypothesis killed by a brutal fact.
The fact is …beginning a pilgrimage in search of happiness is an endeavor doomed to failure. Happiness will not be seduced that easily. It cannot be engineered to respond to you aim, and it is not an objective you can achieve through any direct method. A quest for happiness is a hapless exercise that sabotages your own self-interests by drawing you further away from your objective.
“The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness”. ~Eric Hoffer, The Passionate State of Mind , 1954
If you’re inclined to a project, I’d suggest finding a one that diverts your attention away from your own personal happiness. Instead, shift your focus to the following: Spend time counting your blessings. Abide in what you’re thankful for. Dwell on what you do have in your life. Consider that your worst day is some other persons dream day. Engaged in doing something worthwhile. Find somebody who could use a hand up and help them. Think about all you have to look forward to. Know that you are loved … more than you realize.
Live your precious life for its own sake. Loose yourself and you will find the happiness you are looking for.
Photo credit: Carl Richards
Mark Twain said, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect”. Oscar Wilde proclaimed, “Everything popular is wrong”.
My grandma, who is 87 years old, just launched her brand new blog. Obviously that got me thinking … is blogging dead? Are blogs doomed? Is the blogosphere a bubble ready to blow up? Years ago my dad taught me something about stocks – “When you hear a hot stock tip, SELL”! In other words by the time that “hot tip” trickles all the way down to you and me, it’s way too late.
More than 133 million blogs have been indexed by Technorati since 2002, pumping out a mind-numbing average of 900 thousand blog posts 24 hours of every day, 365 days a year. The current population of the U.S.A. according to 2010 census statistics is 310 million. That means better than one out of every three people in the country owns a blog, and lest we forget that a third of the US population are children, so perhaps the number is closer to every other adult person in the U.S.A. is a purveyor of a blog?
Now granted, Technocrati’s coverage extends beyond our borders and the worldwide population is 6.8 billion, so my ratios may be skewed, but the point remains, there are an awful lot of blogs – and the numbers are growing exponentially. The number of new blogs born each year far exceeds the number of new babys born each year. At the current rate of growth we could see billions of blogs clogging the information superhighway in the years to come.
Hell, If blogging isn’t a bubble, then I don’t know what is!
History warns us about the madness of crowds. Every time you find the vast majority of people en mass enthusiastically adopting anything you will find an irrational bubbles forming, followed by a unanimous consensus and collective denial from the participants in the bubble, claiming that, “it is different this time” …which inevitable is followed by a loud pop! – which quickly silences the crowd.
“The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking”. ~J.K. Galbraith
There is no exception to this pattern, it repeats itself without fail, and the result is always the same. Bubbles may be difficult to identify while they are forming, and impossible to predict when they will burst, but one thing you can count on is they always will. The laws of gravity are agnostic. It doesn’t matter if it’s dot com stocks, housing, or blogging, what goes up, always comes back down. Unfortunately, what we learn from history, is that we don’t learn from history.
Bubbles can be traced all the way back to the latter middle ages when Italian cites in 1351 first issued marketable securities that the masses purchased for speculation only to be burned when the issuers and early adopters sold at the top of the market.
Speculative euphoria and widespread optimism gave birth to Tulipomania in the Dutch Republic in the 1630’s. The Tulip craze grew to embrace most social classes where the bulbs where bought, sold and traded. At the height of the boom a single tulip bulb could be had for the price of a small townhouse. On February 3 rd 1637 the tulip market suddenly crashed.
There was the Mississippi and South Sea Bubble in 1717. The emerging gold rush in the 1820’s where folks sold it all to “head to them there hills” to mine their fortune, only to leave most broke and destitute. Railway mania took hold in 1845 and that bubble burst shortly after. The crash of the stock market in 1929 and the subsequent great depression is eerie reminder of the devastating effects of bursting bubbles. We saw a stock market crash in October 1987 when equities became over valued from too many people chasing easy money. Followed by the great bull market of the 1990’s which for the first time since the great depression saw the average household enthusiastically buying equities driving the Dow Jones Industrial Average from a low of 2,365 in 1990 to 10,000 in March of 1999, a gain of more than 320 percent, followed by Federal Reserve Chairman Allen Greenspan’s irrational exuberance speech, then the dot com crash. The housing market bubble in the 2000’s and its collapse in 2008 is a more recent reminder that history does indeed repeat itself.
All of which reminds me of Cato’s letters, dated January 1721: There must certainly be a vast fund of stupidity in human nature, else men would not be caught as the are, a thousand times over, by the same snare; and while they yet remember their past misfortunes, go on to court and encourage the causes to which they were owing, and which will again produce them.
So back to blogs … are they dead? I certainly hope not! I’m passionate about my blog. I wake up every morning thinking about how I can serve and add value to the lives of those who read my stuff. I love creating worthwhile original content and putting it out into the world, and can’t think of any better way to get it out there than my blog. But as the name of my blog suggests, I am an oppositional thinker by nature and nonconformist by training. I cannot help but think that my chosen vehicle for spreading my message is anything but contrarian. I wonder about the fate and future of my blog, considering I am now standing squarely on the side of the majority, so it does make me pause and reflect.
“One dog barks at something, and a hundred bark at the bark”. ~Chinese Proverb
I’m pausing and reflecting…
The intellectual inferiority of the crowd is well documented. People filter and manipulate new information to make it accord with their existing beliefs. Psychologists call this behavior “cognitive dissonance”. Dissonant information, which contradicts the collective view, is uncomfortable and people seek to avoid it. They may do this by shooting the messenger or by conscripting new converts to their fold to justify their own position. I am not a profit of doom, nor do I have no stake in seeing blogging as we know it die, in fact I have skin in this game as an owner of a blog so I’d prefer they live on and prosper. But I also don’t live with my head in the sand, and there is no denying the fact that the hyper-growth of blogging and the mania surrounding the industry has all the stereotypical characteristics of a bubble.
I fear the day of reckoning is at hand with the air already started leaking out of this blogging bubble. In 2002 when blogging was young, enthusiasts rode high, with posts quickly skyrocketing to the top of Google’s search results for any given topic, fueled by generous links from fellow bloggers. Today, the odds of my clever, insightful, witty prose appearing high on Google’s list? Zero, zip, fuggeddaboudit!
Brian Clark of Copyblogger recently wrote an article, called Actually, Blogging is Dead . His article however was a tongue-in-cheek piece lampooning those who have been unsuccessful (so far) in their claim that blogging is dead. Brian accurately points out that every year the critics are wrong. But I must ask, are the critics wrong about the bubble bursting, or are they just wrong about their timing?
Warren Buffet refused to participate in the 1990’s dot com bubble, and every year for seven years in a row he insisted that equities where overpriced and represented a bubble, and warned that the bubble would inevitably burst. Buffet sat on his hands while his contemporaries made money buying into the mania. He didn’t follow his peers into the gold rush, stating, “even turkeys can fly in a high wind”. For six out of those seven years Buffet was wrong and all the while the enthusiastic masses like a herd of lemmings poured their hard earned money into the market, and for a while they where well rewarded for it. All the stock market professionals and financial gurus said Warren Buffet was passé, he didn’t know what he was talking about, and their famous last words… “It’s different this time.” Funny how none of those experts where around for comment in the seventh year when the bubble blew up and all the naysayers portfolios where halved.
So, are Brian Clark , Darren Rowse , and all the other blogging experts correct, or are they suffering from cognitive dissonance? Is blogging alive and well? Is there no bubble on the horizon? Is it different this time? Will blogs survive and thrive? Or will those who foretold blogging’s fate be found to have been wrong on their timing, but right about the ultimate fate of blogging? Who knows? But if past history is any indication, and if it does indeed repeat itself like it always does, we know how this story will end.
“In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted”. ~Bertrand Russell
One thing I do believe is the altruistic voices with a meaningful message to share who willingly create profound content for it’s own sake, are needed now more than ever, and will be just as much in demand in the future as they are today. The marketplace will always make way for its writers, artists, and poets who create NOT for profit or “tribe building” but because they are called to fulfill a passion.
In the months following the doomsday scenario the blogosphere will resemble a moonscape littered with light-minded blogs that regurgitated hollow recycled drivel, including those that used to hype the latest and greatest SEO tips, subscriber-building gimmickry, and blogging chicanery. But in the aftermath of the exploded bubble, those who consistently created worthwhile, honorable, and meritorious original content will still be standing tall. They will go to work today, just like they did yesterday, diligently creating their works of art, and we will seek them out, and if we don’t find them in the form of a “blog”, then it will be in the form of something else - and we will all be better for it.
We’ve all heard the statistics – 50% of all marriages end in divorce. I’m not sure if this figure is accurate, or if it is just one of those things “they” say, after all, 97.3% of all statistics are made up . It was Mark Twain who said, “Most people use statistics the way a drunk uses a lamp post – more for support than illumination.” What I do know is there are way too many divorces, and far too many people who remain in unhappy marriages long after the relationship has died.
There are many philosophical “truths”, conventional attitudes, and deeply held beliefs that the majority of people subscribe to, that upon examination are found to be fallacious, or worse, disastrous. In fact if you dig deeply enough you’ll find many well-worn cliche’s and tired assumptions at the root of many relationship troubles. The danger of a flawed belief system is it gives birth to erroneous expectations, and it’s our expectations that determine our reality.
One expectation that is particularly dangerous is: My partner should complete me.
This is one of those beliefs that lies at the core of many hobbled relationships and devastated marriages.
The Love Delusion
The idea that someone should complete you is a love-delusion, or faulty belief, that sits at the center of the our relationship nerve-center, operating like corrupt and malicious software sending out defective commands and mixed signals to the brain, which is then decoded and processed for determining right versus wrong, good or bad, and separating the rational from dysfunctional.
It’s a uniquely human quality that we can love another so passionately and connect so deeply that we cannot imagine our life without that person. When two people dedicate themselves fully and unconditionally to each other nothing in life holds as much promise or is capable of more beauty as this. When two individuals weave the fabric of life together it is possible to create something far stronger and much richer than could ever have been experienced separately. This magical experience can leave two people light headed with butterfly’s dancing in their stomachs. This wonderful soul satisfying connection can lead to feelings of love and a promise to have and to hold, but all too often is short lived.
When two complete, centered, and whole individuals come together wedded bliss and relationship nirvana is possible. But when two incomplete, neurotic, and psychologically unhealthy people come together, relationship hell is the likely result.
Debunking Sentimental Hogwash
The idea that two incomplete people can complete each other is a myth propagated by romantics, perpetuated by idealists, and preserved in the mind of those who live in a utopian dreamworld.
It is unfortunate that most people are incomplete when they meet their partner. If we could see the incomplete persons invisible energy it would reveal an image of a half circle. They would look very much like the letter C. In stark contrast, the whole, fully functioning, self-actualized person would look more like a complete circle, or the letter O.
There are many more incomplete people, or C’s wandering the planet than there are complete people, or O’s. The reason for this is rather simple: becoming a complete and whole person takes deep contemplation, time invested in self-reflection, and the hard work of introspection - all activities that require many hours of uninterrupted time alone. It was Blaise Pascal in 1670 , who said, “All man’s troubles come from not knowing how to sit still in one room alone for an extended period of time”.
In our fast-paced, expedient society where everyone wants it yesterday, where characters are born, live a full life, and die in a one hour episode on MTV, people are unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to discover themselves. Everyone wants to know what it is to be whole and feel the security of being complete, but only the rare few are willing to invest the time to do the painful work of self-discovery required for wholeness.
“The longest journey is the journey inward” ~ Dag Hammarskjold
When two incomplete people meet, they feel as if they are complete and whole – like two C’s joining to make one concentric circle. When they discover each other both experience the feeling of wholeness, and there is a burst of energy and a joyous euphoria that flows from a feeling of completeness. The two half-circles feel like a whole circle when they are together. They are fulfilled and completed by the other in the same way two half’s make a whole – hence the familiar platitude, “You complete me!” But of course this is not real. Two half-people in a relationship do not and cannot make someone whole.
Consider the tradition of the wedding ring. The ring is symbolic of the whole, complete, and sovereign “O” individual. The ring is a perfect circle, complete, in need of nothing, and is without beginning and without end. When two people join together in marriage they exchange two rings that represent their independence and interdependence, but they remain separate people just as the rings remain separate. In the Christian tradition you can see this symbol as two interlocking rings with the cross, or God, in the middle. The two rings remain independent but are joined together, interlocked in an inseparable bond, and almost impossible to pull apart. Two half rings or “C’s” that are temporarily connected will easily fall apart. Two complete rings interlocked will not fall apart - they can only be broken apart. And nowhere in religion or secular traditions do you find two rings dissolving into one.
Two Halves Don’t Make a Whole
When two incomplete people come together in a relationship they feel whole for a while, but those feeling are temporary because it comes from a false sense of completeness. What they really have is the classic co-dependent relationship where each takes what they need to sustain themselves. What they mistakenly believe is the other person completed them, but that is an impossible expectation for anyone to have of another. The only person that can complete you, is you! You cannot find completeness, wholeness, and congruence outside of yourself – the only place you will find that is within.
The biggest issue with a union formed out of two incomplete people is you end up with two problems when before you only had one. When two incomplete people come together they don’t help each other become better, they become worse. You end up with two needy people taking from each other instead of giving to each other, hence they end up reducing each to something less than what they where before they met.
Their incompleteness and emptiness is masked by the newness of their partnership. Everything feels good in the beginning and they feel complete for a while, but eventually those initial feelings wane and wear off. They begin to sense something is missing in their relationship, when in reality the “thing” that is missing is inside them. The happy couple devolve into an unhappy couple as they protest that the other doesn’t understand them, they complain about the lost connection, and they grumble about needs that are not being met. They desperately seek to revive the relationship and resurrect those feelings of security and completeness they felt in the beginning.
Because their fulfillment came outside of themselves, when they loose that feeling they seek to find it outside themselves. They look to restore it through the other person instead of looking within or seeking to give it in order to get it. They look to take what they need from the other – after all it was the other person that gave them those feelings to begin with, so they see the other person as responsible for taking it away, and making them feel they way they do.
The 50/50 Zero Sum Arrangement
In any relationship where two people become one, you end up with two half people. When people refer to their significant other as the “better half” this simply furthers the idea that you are incomplete person and you need someone or something else in order to be complete.
The two half-people will always wrestle for control over the one relationship. Often the relationship digresses into a power struggle where each looks to get something from each other. Each wants their fair share. They feel the other person has what they need and is withholding it from them. They demand equity, justice, and fairness. Because they have always had 50/50 arrangement and never a 100/100 relationship, they constantly strive to level the scales and even the score in their zero-sum game. As the pendulum swings back and forth they keep score of who’s doing the most, giving the most, and sacrificing the most.
Instead of having a healthy relationship where each is always attempting to out serve, out give, and out love the other, they have a quid pro quo arrangement. They in effect say, give me that, and I’ll give this this. They trade favors, barter for what they want, and exchange one accommodation for another – and are not even aware they are doing it. Their relationship more closely resembles a business partnership or political arrangement where each has their role and each is expected to uphold their end of the deal. Each person measures and judges the quality of the relationship by what they get versus what they give. When the arrangement reaches equilibrium or when the scale tilts in their favor, they are happy, but when the balance of power shifts leaving one or the other lacking, they fight to regain what they perceive they’ve lost. In an effort to right imaginary wrongs and even the score they withhold something or seek to get something. “I took out the garbage last week, so it’s your turn this week.” “I made dinner, so you mow the lawn”. I had the baby all day, so now it’s your turn”. etc, etc. It never occurs to the incomplete person to give what it is that they want. This unhealthy union is a false edifice built on a shaky and unstable foundation that is always shifting under their feet.
Desperately Seeking Completeness
The half-person will use any means necessary to once again experience those feelings of being whole –that is, anything but look in the mirror. They become like a drug addict looking for a fix to satisfy their insatiable craving. Their behavior is guided by the need to get the other person to do something or be something different from what they are. Their entire orientation is centered on what they lack, what they need, and what they aren’t getting from their partner. In an effort to become whole through their partner instead of through themselves, the relationship dwindles into a manipulative tug-o-war with each attempting to get what they need from the other.
“Between a man and wife nothing aught to rule but love.” ~ William Penn
Manipulative and controlling behaviors manifest themselves in many different ways. Some are subtle psychological attempts, like pulling the poor lil’ me card, attempting to make the other feel guilty, withholding sex, walking out of the room, or using the silent treatment to get your partner to give you what you want. Some behaviors are more overt and threatening like raising your voice, slamming doors, or worse, resorting to violence to control the other person. Whatever the behavior and no matter how it bubbles to the surface it’s all the same neurotic dysfunction manifesting itself in different ways.
This story ends when one or both of the incomplete people decide they can no longer remain in a relationship with a partner who cannot or will not give them what they need. They leave the relationship and embark on a new journey in search greener pastures. They assert that their soul-mate or significant other is “out there” somewhere. If the incomplete person finds Mr. or Mrs. Right they inevitably destroy that relationship just as as they destroyed that last. The sad cycle repeats itself.
Declare Your Independence
Louis Anspacher summed it up perfectly, when he said, “A marriage is a relation between a man and a woman in which the independence is equal, the dependence mutual, and the obligation reciprocal”.
Relationships work best when the individuals remain individuals. When two complete, self-actualized, and whole individuals form a relationship based on love, then each partner allows the other to be what he or she chooses, with no exceptions and no demands. The union is a simple association between two people who love each other so much that each would never expect the other to be something that he or she wouldn’t choose for him or her self. It is a relationship based on independence, rather than dependence. It is a relationship between equals. They are strong, capable, and supportive for each other, and they are better because of each other.
Incomplete people confuse dependence with love. Needing someone is not the same as loving someone.
Joel Goldsmith, the author of The Infinite Way conducted a marriage ceremony in November 1959. This is an excerpt from that ceremony:
An individual remains an individual, not only from birth to death, but actually long before birth until long, long after death ….We never loose our individuality; we never loose our uniqueness …Each of us is an individual, and each of us has individual qualities, each of us has individual talents and gifts, and these are not to be surrendered in a marriage. Therefore in a spiritual marriage there is not bondage but freedom, but this is not true in a human marriage. It is true in a spiritual marriage; where both recognize that in marriage they are setting each other free. This is the only thing I’ve discovered in thirty years of this work that will make possible such things as happy marriages, peaceful marriages, successful marriages; the ability to set the other free and each live with his own individual life, and yet share with each other without demanding …Niether husband nor wife has any rights; they have only the privilege of giving, but they have no right to demand anything of the other.
This wonderful message perfectly describes the unconventional relationship … where bliss is possible and the love is real.
The Unconventional Relationship
The conventional relationship is fraught with dysfunction and only survives and endures on compromise, work, and sacrifice. The unconventional relationship demands nothing, is infused with freedom and imbued with a love that is unconditional and unlimited.
Healthy relationships work because they don’t require work. We work all day, the last thing anyone wants to do is come home and go to work on their relationship. Blaa! The beautifully unconventional relationship doesn’t sacrifice or compromise. It doesn’t make demands, it isn’t a slog or long suffering, and doesn’t require anyone to change. The work is a labor of love, which by definition is not work at all.
When you give a gift to your child – is this work or a sacrifice? I’d venture to guess you gave the gift because it brings you great joy. You give because you want to, because it makes you feel good inside, and because you receive more from giving than the recipient does by receiving. You give not begrudgingly or because you are compelled to give - you give because you love. This is not work.
The unconventional relationship profits from its sacrifices, receives through compromise, gains when it gives, and benefits from serving. The line between getting and giving is so blurred and obliterated it is completely indistinguishable. Their are no defined roles or rules, nobody keeps score, each individual simply gives freely, unconditionally, and without recompense.
Unconventional relationships arise when two complete individuals commit themselves unconditionally to each other, to love each other, and support each others growth towards their full potential. Because both are centered and complete in themselves they are able to give freely, without selfish motives or the desire to make the other person something other than what they are. In this sacred, loving, dignified partnership there are no demands or boundaries. Each accepts responsibility for themselves and intuitively knows the magic in the relationship begins and end with them. Both self-loving people choose happiness over rightness, understanding over seeking to be understood, and giving over getting; paradoxically, they end up with more happiness, more understanding, and receiving far more than they gave.
“A man cannot be uncomfortable without his own approval.” ~ Mark Twain
We all enjoy compliments, praise, and applause. It feels good when we are on the receiving end of someone’s adulation. Being congratulated or complimented is a wonderfully pleasurable feeling, and enjoying the feelings that come from other people’s endorsement is perfectly normal. There is nothing unhealthy about desiring and appreciating approval from others, however when other people’s approval becomes a need , this is when it becomes unhealthy. If you are happy to have it and you receive it without solicitation, this is healthy, but when you look for it, wait for it, or require it, this behavior is a self-destructive neurosis.
Approval seeking and groping for attention has become an international mental health pandemic that is readily observable in all corners of the globe.
People inflicted with this psychological disorder freely give away their individuality, the essence of what makes them unique, and a big chunk of their humanity when they require outside approval in order to feel good inside about themselves. Those infected with this sickly condition do not know what it is to be free, because they have an insatiable need for praise, and demand the advocacy of other people in order to gain personal fulfillment.
This malfunction of an otherwise healthy and independent free mind leaves the victim numb and unable to find the self-satisfaction that comes naturally to those who are self-actualized and fully functioning. These tepid souls develop a non-person self-image and cultivate an unhealthy form of self-rejection. Unable to function independent of the approval of other people, they become a slave to others opinions, loose their identity, and forfeit their personal freedom to those whose approval they require for happiness.
Turn the page..
In Africa and parts of India the natives use a unique technique to catch monkeys.
They hollow out one end of a coconut and tie a long line to it. Then they put peanuts inside the coconut and hide it in the bush. When a monkey discovers the coconut filled with nuts, he works his hand through the small hole in one end of coconut to grab a fist full of nuts, but finds when he makes a fist to grab the peanuts he is unable to pull his hand out through the hole. The monkey is persistent but he is confounded by the coconut and is unable to retrieve the item of his desire. Once the monkey has his hand inside the coconut, the natives slowly pull in the line attached to the coconut. No matter how loud the monkey squeals, cries, and complains, or pulls, tugs, and fights, he remains trapped as long as his fist is clenched, and the only way he can save himself is to let go of the peanuts!
The monkey could easily escape if he he’d just let go, but all too often he doesn’t and ends up getting captured and looses his freedom. Of course the monkey was only caught because of his limited thinking, for if he had let go of the peanuts he would be free!
At this point in the story, all of us enlightened human readers might blame the chimpanzees primitive brain, small cerebral cortex, and limited cognitive ability for getting trapped, while chastising the primate for not having the mental faculties to recognize the cause-effect relationship between clinging so tightly to something of little value that it causes the loss of something of far greater value – to which I would inquire, “are we all that different from the chimp?”
Many people complain that personal freedom isn’t possible or realistic in the real world. They lament the restrictions upon their life that make it seem impossible to be free. They are in trapped a box.
Turn the page..
“To be great is to be misunderstood” . – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: when all the dunces are in a confederacy against him”. Jonathan Swift knew exactly what it was to be a contrarian, and he spoke without equivocation about it’s virtues, while emphasizing the importance of remaining true to yourself while under assault from the jeering and heckling mob. He also recognized this uniquely human characteristic as pivotal to success and happiness.
So let’s explore contrarianism …
Examples of contrarianism are abundant in varying degrees, more often than not conjuring up images of disgruntled, inflammatory, and angry young men; or old curmudgeons that are argumentative nihilists and mean-spirited provocateurs hell-bent on stirring up controversy.
Some see the contrarian as a less incendiary figure, more like traveling vagabonds, freethinking bohemians, or eccentric beatniks living on the far fringes of society.
The dictionary defines the contrarian as a rebel, demagogue, or renegade who takes an opposing view or stands apart from the majority.
Although these are typical definitions of the contrarian, they are far too simplistic.
Turn the page..