Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Two Choices

Note: I am re-posting this entry as it may have been lost during the holidays when it originally appeared.

You can take one of two paths in life.  The path of self-actualization and action, or the path of passive acceptance and inaction.  The second path is the one touted by the media today as the "American Dream"  -  of having everything handed to you on a platter and then whining when it isn't any good.  But there is another way to live, and it is far better than the dreck that is being offered up as " living"  these days.

To many people, the strategic thinking of Al Qaeda seems bizarre.  Flying planes into the twin towers and the Pentagon (as well as the attempt on the Capitol) wouldn't bring America to its knees, but instead provoke a long a bloody war that would keep them on the run for years to come and polarize politics in the Middle East.  Did they really think we were so weak as to just collapse because a few buildings are destroyed and a few thousand people killed?

Perhaps they did.  Americans today have a reputation of being whining crybabies who throw a hissy fit if their Vente Latte isn't hot enough, or their Happy Meal isn't Supersized.  We are overfed, overpaid, underworked, staggeringly obese and very lazy - for the most part.  Or at least, that is the image we project to the rest of the world.

And yet, there is a nugget of truth to this characterization - and it illustrates the divide in this country today.  A large portion of our population - perhaps the majority - suffers from depression, feels they are entitled, believes themselves to be victims of one sort or another, and rarely looks at their own actions as the cause of their own woes.

Are they shutting down the factory and laying everyone off?   Must be the fault of "greedy" management who insists that the plant be profitable!  After all, it can't be the fault of the "workers" who have been on strike for four years, and when they do show up for work, insist on a salary of $60,000 a year plus full health coverage, for basic unskilled work - which they don't even do very well.  No, no, it is the company's fault and don't even suggest that the union could have a hand in this.

Or perhaps, if you are "conservative" you can blame all your woes on the government for "taxing you to death" - never mind that you enjoy some of the lowest tax rates on the planet.  The shouting guy on TeeVee told you it is not your fault - and that is what you wanted to hear.  It is weak thinking at its worst.

You have two choices in life.  Two.  Just two.  You can be lazy and blame all your woes on everyone else and never take responsibility for anything and then sit around and whine about it all, or you can take action in your life - make the best of a bad situation (and realize your situation, from a global perspective, is anything but bad) and take responsibility for your life - including responsibility for your own mistakes.

And people in this country fall into these two groups - not "Conservative" or "Liberal" - as both ends of the political spectrum harbor their share of whiners and complainers.  In fact, I would say that the division, if you were to demarcate it politically, was more of the Center versus the extremes.

People in the Center just want to do their work, get along, and move on with life, realizing their own mistakes and taking responsibility for them.  The folks on the far Left want to blame "the big corporations" for their misfortune in life, while those on the far Right want to blame "the big government" for their personal problems.  And no doubt, you've met species of both and been buttonholed by them and bored for hours about how there are "more important issues at stake here" than their getting off their ass and getting a job.

So you have two choices.  You can spend the rest of your life blaming your problems on others - externalizing, if you will, and of course never getting anywhere.  People who follow this first path are often characterized by:
  • Weak thinking
  • Victim mentality
  • Blaming others for woes
  • Inaction
  • Not making decisions
  • Depression
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Taking the easy way out
  • Comparing yourself to others
  • Obsession with Politics
  • Looking for happiness externally
But of course, you do have a second choice.  It is a harder path, but it is the only path to wealth and happiness.  Complainers and whiners never, ever win.  At most they might get a prescription to anti-depressants or medical marijuana.  But being depressed all the time - is that winning?  There is a second way - a path of self-actualization and self-awareness, as well as taking responsibility for your own life.  People who follow this second path are characterized by:
  • Taking action
  • Taking responsibility for bad decisions in the past
  • Making plans
  • Doing difficult things
  • Making sacrifices
  • Learning to live without
  • Being grateful for what you have
  • Looking at the world view, rather than the local view
  • Living according to your own standards
  • Looking inwardly for happiness
When I was younger, I took the first path.  Why?  Well, I came from a family of whiners and complainers - people who believed that "but for" the grand conspiracy or the politics of the day, they would be rich and never have to work.  People who fell for weak thinking and blame-shifting.  Corporations were always evil, bosses always assholes, and work was for chumps.  That sort of thing.  When you go through life thinking the deck is stacked against you - so why bother trying - well, then you've stacked the deck against yourself.

I also followed this first path because it was the one the media likes to harp on.  Why?  Because victims make excellent consumers.  So long as you view yourself as a passive participant in life, you will end up getting the worst sort of bargains imaginable - buying everything on credit and paying the highest prices for every sort of goods.  And rather than really figure out how money works and work on a plan to accumulate wealth, depressed people just say "Fuck it, let's buy a brand new car, we deserve it!" and squander away yet more cash.

The media, particularly the TeeVee, pounds into your head every day that you are a victim of one sort of another, and moreover you should focus your energies on being outraged over it all.  It doesn't matter if it is the far left claiming that the "Evil Corporations" are taking over the world, or the far right claiming Obama is turning us into a socialist state.  The point is, you are supposed to be outraged over it all, and the reason you are unemployed is due to the government, not your lack of skills, lack of dedication to hard work, or your unwillingness to move to an area where there are in fact, jobs.

What got me off the first path and onto the second?  I got tired of being a victim, I guess.  It took decades, but I began to realize that the path of dependency and perpetual debt was not a natural way to live, but an artificial construct being forced upon me.  Well, not necessarily forced, but sold to me, baited with sweet lies of "have it all now" and "blame someone else".

I swallowed the bait, hook, line and sinker, because weak thinking is fun, sort of.  You are never wrong, just a victim of someone's machinations.  It is comforting, in a way, and you do get the instant gratification of owning lots of consumer goods - at least for a while.

It started to dawn on me that, as my income rose, I was merely swimming in place - never getting substantially ahead of myself.  That the way of living sold to me by the TeeVee was to spend my money in increasingly larger and larger amounts, in monthly payments, rather than try to accumulate wealth.  And moreover, society at large promoted this same image.  There was a virtual competition, among my neighbors and peers, to show off the latest and fanciest of gadgets, possessions, and cars, usually financed on time.  Debt, it would seem, was our perpetual friend.

How many tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars have I spent over the years on interest payments?  Interest that, for the most part, was not necessary to my living my life.  Interest payments so I could "have it all now" rather than save for later.

And whose fault was this?  Mine and mine alone.  While I might "blame" the TeeVee and our society for selling us a false religion, the responsibility for buying it lies solely with the purchaser.  Caveat Emptor, no warranties expressed or implied.  And sorry, no returns or exchanges allowed!

Turning away from the noise and chatter of the mass-media, and in particular the false religion sold on TeeVee (even the real religions sold on TeeVee are false religions!) was the answer - looking within for answers instead of looking outward.  Taking the second path is not easy, as everyone from the media, to your friends, your neighbors, your family, and even your spouse, will say you are insane for not wanting to be a victim or be hopelessly in debt.

Everyone, it seems, says that being in debt is good.  Everyone, it seems, wants to tell you that you are a victim.  Everyone, it seems, is wrong.