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    The ills of American society have been magnified by the vacuum left by the disintegration of the extended and nuclear families. What to do? Here’s a suggestion.

Borrowed Waders
” Yeah, I do know Dom DeLuise. Why do you ask?”

Start: I have a vision.

Now I don’t mean this in the sense of a Nostradamus-style prophecy, or even a concept of Buckminster Fuller-esque elegance, but an idea that captivates me enough that I want to share with you, and with the world at large.

I feel, in my own little way, that I am already doing what I’m about to propose here. But there are those with greater resources and greater wisdom who could do this far better and more effectively than I can hope to for many years to come.

Let’s begin.

Would You Like Responsibility With That?

The market crash of October 2008 and ensuing financial crisis have exposed the vulnerable underbelly of America plain for the world and even we in America to see. We can shake our heads and tisk-tisk to ourselves, but unfortunately this problem has come to rest at our own feet, and we will be stubbing our toes on it for some time to come.

Plainly, our vulnerability is our willingness to abdicate responsibility, or to attempt to fix blame for our actions on others, blame that is rightly ours.

This is a national sickness, maybe a sickness of the Western World, but it can be cured.

Think about this:

It’s fairly well understood that the housing loan collapse was due to not just people buying into loans that could turn on them at any moment and eat them alive, but by institutions (more people) who were eager to sell these loans, and an industry and regulatory body (whole bunches of even more people) that turned a blind eye to practices that pretty much guaranteed long-term failure.

What caused this?

  • A willingness to ignore facts that would get in the way of satisfying selfish, unreasoning needs;
  • A desire on a part of the loan industry to sell financial instruments that could easily push the buyer into default;
  • A level of negligence on the part of the loan industry that didn’t police itself for practices that would eventually decimate it.

Couldn’t all of this been avoided by applying a little common sense?

Do I need to answer that?

Din’t our mommas learn us nuthin?

This was, after all, what the fairy tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes” was about — seeing what was plainly in front of us.

Despite her faults, my mother used to read me fairy tales at bedtime. She couldn’t have been the only one.

The Visually Impaired Leading the Visually Impaired

In my opinion, the problems in our society, at least in America, and probably similarly in all western nations, are built on two things:

  1. The breakup of the extended family because of industrialization;
  2. The deterioration of the nuclear family in the aftermath of World War II, the presence of the technological babysitter called television, and the Baby Boom/Counterculture’s rejection of societal values without offering substantive new values to replace them.

I don’t reject some of the insight of the Counterculture. We were in a society rife with hypocrisy, and it was natural to reject what we saw as false. But unfortunately, we didn’t replace it with what was true.

We didn’t get rid of hypocrisy, we just replaced it with our own brand.

Nor am I saying that industrialization shouldn’t have happened. Living in harmony with the ecosystem is obviously necessary for our long-term survival, but “going back to The Garden” is a Utopian ideal.

Argue this if you will, but having lost a real “infrastructure” of mentoring, parenting, or leadership for probably sixty years, this is what our world has become.

Is it any surprise?

Crisis, Opportunity, and a Chinese Fish Proverb

    Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
              — Chinese Proverb, exact attribution unknown.

Simply, many of us, clearly an unfortunately influential majority, do not understand how to live successfully. We don’t know how to fish.

And, as many in the personal development corner of the blogosphere have pointed out, the current financial crisis is an opportunity to stand up on our own two feet and make a life for ourselves. It would appear, however, that most people A.) don’t know how to begin, B.) don’t even think they can, or C.) don’t want to try.

Group A just needs some guidance. Group B needs some encouragement, which is probably best done by example.

I don’t think anyone can help group C until they want to help themselves.

Would Someone Please Teach Us How To Fish?

A recent statistic tells us that a billion people now have internet access. Though not all knowledge available on the internet has integrity, there is much that does.

Many of us because of our family situation unfortunately only had television and media for our role models — characters in an endless stream of fictional programming with no basis in reality whatsoever.

What I would like to suggest is that there is now an opportunity for our entire world to have access to role models of real value. The truly successful of the world could use the internet as a stage to leave us the legacy of their wisdom, real people leaving a real legacy that can reshape our society, as leaders to the world on how to live.

They have the resources and the money. All they would need is to dedicate the time.

They would also have to dedicate their hearts. No strings.

(Yes, that’s right. I’m asking the successful of the world to consider offering this kind of service to the world at their own expense, out of the goodness of their hearts. I think, since most successful people must already understand the concept of service, this is an only slightly audacious proposal.)

I am not suggesting any government oversight for this.

I am not asking or even suggesting trade secrets or proprietary information. I’m just talking about day-to-day wisdom.

I am not speaking of just entrepreneurs. I am speaking of all categories and facets of human experience. The successful in every field.

How to be ethical.

How to make hard choices.

How to live with ourselves.

How to give a damn.

How to make our lives work.

And of course, all those little things, like balancing our checkbooks, how to have safe sex, how not to walk into a busy New York City street and get ourselves killed.

(And, hey … even how to say no to something we can’t afford.)

In other words, I’m talking about how to fish.

Virtually Available Role Models for Actual Humanity

Happily, there are some who are already taking steps in the direction. Naturally I think of Oprah Winfrey, and those who are in her circle. On a much smaller scale, but no less valid, are the efforts of many personal development writers; however, none of these individuals have the “traction” of respected celebrity or established presence on the world stage that I would ideally want to see in this role.

Virtual relationships — as in “internet relationships,” as vital as they can sometimes be — are not the whole answer, but we can’t turn back the clock to a time before the internet, and I doubt most of us would want to.

With mentoring and parenting less prevalent in the real world than it was decades ago, perhaps the virtual world can help fill this widening void until we learn the skills to find the right balance in living with our technology, and the willingness and strength to re-embrace our innate humanity.

 

Copyright © 2009, by Daniel Brenton. All Rights Reserved.

End

2010 is up there somewhere.
Get out your pitons, boys and girls — the new year is up there somewhere.

Start: New Year’s Resolutions.

Some time ago I gave up on even thinking about such a thing. Partly this was because I have never really been someone for (externally-imposed) structure — a personal quirk I accept at my own peril — and another reason is that it seemed like another example of lemming-like behavior our society seems intent on inflicting against itself.

I, for one, am not a rodent. (If you are, you might as well stop reading this, because I have nothing to say to you, Mickey.)

“Kin You Say ‘Ritual’? … I Knew You Could”

New Year’s Resolutions are just too ritualistic, and because of this they tend to be acts executed with a level of mindlessness and a minimum of commitment.

In fact, the ritual isn’t even structured rationally. We have the initial action, but does our society have ritualized progress reviews? Do we look at each other on March 31, June 30, and September 30 and say to each other in Dana Carvey’s Church Lady voice, “Are we keeping up with our resolutions this quarter? Hmmmmmm?”

(If we actually did this, I would probably resist them even more.)

For a few years I decided to make resolutions that I knew I could keep. For 2008, for example, I resolved to:

  1. Not take any road trips through Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, or the Gaza strip.
  2. Not to pet any tarantulas.
  3. Not get my wife a snake — any kind of snake — for her birthday … unless I was feeling particularly brave, stupid, or self-destructive.
  4. Not to continue kicking my dog. (No, I’ve never had a dog.)
  5. Not to flip off any police officers or state troopers, as much as I might want to.
  6. Never to watch any part the TV movie Gilligan’s Island and the Harlem Globetrotters ever, ever again.
  7. And finally, I resolved not to tell any jokes about, or even think about Michael or Janet Jackson.

I was, as you might expect, phenomenally successful.

Futility?

Are New Year’s Resolutions exercises in futility? Millions of people make New Year’s Resolutions annually, and the number that succeed with them is probably painfully small.

It seems to me that if we’re really goal oriented people, we already have goals in place that are a lot more important.

Having said that, I will concede that the use of this kind of goal framework is not necessarily futile. If you can really see the Gregorian calendar as your friend and motivator, well, I bow to your self-disciplinary superiority (… that didn’t sound quite right, did it?) For me, I have to disengage from the “pack” mentality for goals to be meaningful. It takes a different kind of animal than this lone wolf to really run with them.

Really, it comes down to each of us and what works for us best.

It seems to me that if we’re really goal oriented people, we already have goals in place that are a lot more important, goals that don’t lend themselves to some kind of annual arc of completion.

The bottom line is that if we really want to make our lives better, I would hope that we wouldn’t wait around for a wall calendar to tell us to do it.

Am I right Mickey?

Copyright © 2009, by Daniel Brenton. All Rights Reserved.
 
End