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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.


    Once we open the door to “fabulousness,” however briefly, we can never be the same.

Start: If you haven’t heard of the The Secret by this time, you’ve managed to successfully avoid popular culture for nearly three years now.

(You’ll have to tell us your secret.)

Needless to say, we’ve all heard of The Secret, the inspirational movie that tells us we can create the lives of our dreams, and explains the keys to make it happen, a movie which has sold by the millions on DVD. Most likely you either thought there was something to it, that it was New Age Woo Woo, or that it was Twenty-First Century snake oil.

Or, you’re in the handful that either swears by it or takes it for granted because you’re already doing it.

This is a suceessful popularization of the “The Law of Attraction,” of course, the metaphysical principle underlying how Life works, of bringing into manifestation the things on which we focus our attention.

There are many sources who can speak to this with real authority. If you seriously want to learn more about this, I suggest you seek one of them out.

Alas … I am not one of them.

I’ve heard about this for many years, called by different names. This, of course, was the “message between the lines” Napoleon Hill hinted at repeatedly in his classic Think and Grow Rich. The Unity School of Christianity calls it “co-creating with God.” Louise Hay applies this thinking to the health of the body and the “metaphysical causations” that are associated with illnesses.

Is it true?

I believe it is.

Am I successful at making it work the way I want?

In a word, no.

In two words, not yet. But I think I can be.

Let Me Tell You a Story …

My wife and I caught the February 8, 2007, installment of The Oprah Winfrey Show that featured several of the key players of the movie — Rhonda Byrne, James Arthur Ray, Lisa Nichols, and Michael Beckwith. We were impressed. Perhaps it was simply a matter of timing, but at that stretch in my life I was beginning to embrace the idea that I am totally responsible for my life and that my life is what I make it. In several ways my life was a mess, at that point, so it took a bit of fortitude to buy into the idea. The payoff, of course, is that I can make it better.

My wife in fact bought into it far better than I did.

Let me give you some context. My wife, Gayle, is disabled. She has chronic rheumatoid arthritis and, on top of this, has a lower back issue that makes it impossible for her to sit for long periods of time. She deals with an enormous amount of pain constantly, some days much more so than others. We sleep in separate rooms because, due to the medications and the pain, her sleep patterns are frequently out of kilter. Yet somehow she’s able to find a core of happiness or contentment that allows her to keep smiling, keep sane, and keep moving forward.

The morning after that Oprah episode (it was a day off for me) she came into the living room, where I was busy at the computer.

“Well, good morning,” I said. “How’re you doin’?”

“I’m fabulous!”

Normally it was okay enough, okay, or on one of the better days pretty good.

I stared at her blankly for a moment.

“Don’t you get it?” she insisted. “I’m fabulous!”

It felt a little like a Bob Newhart moment. “Fabulous,” I repeated pensively. Then. trying to get into the swing of it, I said, “and I’m excellent.”

(I wasn’t particularly convincing.)

(And, actually, I said “I’m exemplary,” which sounds kind of snooty, doesn’t it?)

Then it clicked. There was an undertone of willfulness to her attitude, not unlike the “faith by strength of will” I’d seen in Christians I’d known through my life.

I’m afraid all I could say for a moment was, “oh.” And then I thought: Who knows? Who am I to dismiss this? Maybe she can make it work.

And she did.

The suggestion had come her way that, on her good days, she could volunteer at a nearby elementary school, giving one-on-one help for children as they worked with their reading. The elementary school was about a half-mile away, a strenuous effort for her on her better days, and impossible on others.

She had thought about seeing how hard it would be to walk it, the first logical step in considering to try it on a regular basis.

Despite my concerned protestations, she did it, and made it back without any real difficulty.

Still feeling fabulous! she wanted to go out and have a good time. At the time, she enjoyed playing nickels at a casino chain that caters to the locals, and normally would drop about sixty a session. (Yes, this annoys me, but how can I begrudge something she obviously enjoys so much, especially when she can’t do it very often?)

She rarely wins, and never wins six hundred — like she did that day.

So, for a short stretch, we were Mr. Excellent and Mrs. Fabulous!

However, in only a couple of days Gayle wasn’t fabulous any more. The magic that was shoring her up caved in, and she was pretty much her old self again. Having the “magic touch” dissipate so quickly was disheartening to her, and set us both back a little, but the reality of the experience remains.

Skeptical of the Skeptics

Most skeptics would deny there was any cause and effect relationship between my wife being exposed to the Law of Attraction through The Secret and her subsequent … fabulousness! … and would dismiss this episode as coincidence.

Well, I for one dismiss the skepticism. I don’t believe in coincidence. I feel what happened is that Gayle had a little peek at the potential we all have inside, and was able to feel it more deeply than most people do. Then the terrible self-doubts and limiting thoughts that tear us down from the inside out reasserted themselves, and she became a mere mortal again.

If that line of thinking is correct, and if we can eliminate those inner demons, all that will be left is Heaven.

Sounds pretty darned exemplary to me.

One Last Note …

One last note about The Secret: We did buy it shortly afterwards, though I found The Secret’s home site, actually was an obstacle to purchasing it. The site wouldn’t allow me to get to a products page without registering for (an admittedly free) membership. Incensed, I found it on and bought it there. The site would have gotten my money, but that wasn’t enough — they wanted some kind of personal information out of me in the process, which I feel confident would be used to attempt to sell me other products, and in turn be sold to others so that they could do the same.

Sorry. I have a “no soliciting” sign on my door for a reason.

It is only natural the “big money” attitude that has engulfed The Secret would tend to undermine the message, but in all fairness, the messenger, not the message, is what is at fault. The hype and ostentatious display that surrounds the Outwardly Successful can’t help but betray an inner poverty, and the fact that the key players of The Secret allow this money machine to develop around them reveals something about their natures that is, in my humble opinion, less than … exemplary.

I do feel the basic message is sound. It is a perennial message, and will surface again and again in countless forms into the far future, until there is no longer any need for help to understand it.

In our own way, Mr. Excellent and Mrs. Fabulous! will keep working toward our fulfillment, and we have the faith that we will someday make “The Secret” really work for us.

And if we become wildly successful, we’ll make sure to have our administrative assistant let you know.

(And call us — we’ll do lunch.)


Copyright © 2007-2009, by Daniel Brenton. All Rights Reserved.

This article is revised from a previous version (no longer available) which was published on this site, June 5, 2007.