Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Life is Difficult - Realigning Expectations in America

“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.” – M. Scott Peck

And so begins the wonderful book “The Road Less Travelled”.

Life IS difficult, complex, challenging, frustrating and sometimes painful.

It is also amazing, inspiring, uplifting, loving and filled with opportunities for growth, sharing and collaboration.

But the latter doesn’t come without sacrifice, effort and intention to make it so.

And yet many Americans believe that all the complexities of their society can be solved simply or that someone else needs to hurry up and make their life better.

Many of us have enough difficulty getting along with a friend, colleague, spouse, child or neighbour.  If we can’t do that, how do we expect American society-at-large to be so easily fixed.

Consider this ….

1. The business of government is far too complex for anyone to understand, comprehend, fix or even guide, having long outstripped the ability of its creator to control it.   The myriad of laws woven together, each law modifying, adding to or negating other laws is beyond the ability of practically anyone to understand let alone vote on.  Legislation such as the Patriot Act, Obamacare and others are often over 1000 pages in length and many times are given to legislators to vote on within 24 hours of receipt. 

Take the time to actually read one of these pieces of legislation.  I have and they are indecipherable.  Pick a random piece out of one of them and ask your state rep what the excerpt means or what the impact is on other laws.  The blank stare or cliché vomit will speak volumes.

2. The checks and balances of the American legislative system have been swept away by the use of Executive Directives, basically making Congress and the Senate more of a public relations mechanism and not a legislative one.

3. Spending continues out of control, with Fed Chairman Bernanke and others calling for the removal of the debt ceiling altogether, thereby releasing the American government to dig the debt hole deeper and faster and thus condemning future generations to some VERY painful decision.   The President is even threatening to pass his own debt ceiling legislation via Executive Directive.

4. Emergency preparedness basically means “counter terrorism” and so emergency preparedness other than in the terror realm has become more of either a public relations game (“don’t worry, we’ll protect you”) or a “cross my fingers and hope that our generic solution will be effective” belief.

How well is this working? A few examples …..

1. I was told in the early 1990’s by senior ranking US military officials that their biggest concern for American national security centered around people hijacking commercial aircraft and flying them into our public buildings.  Ten years later, we had 9/11 and public officials were publicly “caught off guard”.

2. In 2004, we had the Madrid train bombing.  A year later, having learning nothing, we had a repeat in London.

3. Airline officials will admit off the record that airline security is more of a PR game than a solvable problem.  The dedicated terrorist will do what they choose when they choose to.  The billions we spend on airline security keep us safe from the amateur nutbar …. nothing else.

The Bottom Line

Relying on legislators and bureaucrats alone is not “getting it done”. In fact, doing so is exacerbating the challenges we are experiencing.

Regardless of what any politician tells you, the “system” as it stands has its own inertia, dragging the country and its citizens with it towards an end that most strategy people can already see and which the government is creating an “answer” for.

Having sat in on meetings where this end was discussed, I can assure you that the “answer” is not very palatable for the American citizen.

The current system is a run away train and the good old days are gone.

Well, at least as we perceived them.

But that doesn’t mean that great days can’t be created in front of us.

But to do so requires that we recognize the complexity of the world we live in and to recognize that there are few if any easy, simple, painless solutions.

It requires that we acknowledge that no one person has the answer.  Politicians are least likely to have “the answer” as many don’t understand the system they believe they are guiding and many have figured out how to leverage the system for their own benefit, having recognized that they can’t do anything else with it but use it to serve their own needs.

And it requires that we recognize our personal responsibility in contributing towards a solution, including  overcoming our denial of the situation we are in.

Eric Holdeman, a leader in helping people be better prepared against disaster, once said this:

There are four stages of denial.  One is, it won't happen. Two is, if it does happen, it won't happen to me. Three: if it does happen to me, it won't be that bad. And four: if it happens to me and it's bad, there's nothing I can do to stop it anyway."

I’d like to add three more variations:

It can only happen if I think about it, therefore thinking “happy thoughts” makes it go away.

The government (or someone else) will figure it out, therefore I don’t need to worry about it.

My skills, knowledge and talent can’t make a difference anyway since I’m just one person, so why should I bother?

Guess what?

M. Scott Peck and Eric Holdeman are both right.

Life IS difficult.

And denial doesn’t make it better.

If you think it is difficult now, wait until you see what continued apathy, indifference and ignorance will produce as our sense of urgency, collaboration and results-focus fades away.

Consider this example:

The city of Pompeii was significantly damaged in a strong earthquake in 63 AD.  Assuming that bad things couldn’t happen again and despite the fact that the mountain they lived in the shadow of had a long history of volcanic eruptions, the citizens rebuilt their city, only to have it significantly destroyed in the eruption of Vesuvius 16 years later.

Denial of reality can be blissful.

It can also be fatal.

The difficulty we are creating tomorrow will make today look like the good old days unless we demand better of ourselves and others.

Demanding better won’t be easy.

But deferring such choices will make things even more difficult and painful tomorrow.

I think future generations deserve better.

I also think we can and must do better.

What do you think?

In service and servanthood,


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