One of the most wicked destructive forces, psychologically speaking, is unused creative power … If someone has a creative gift and out of laziness, or for some other reason, doesn’t use it, the psychic energy turns to sheer poison. That’s why we often diagnose neuroses and psychotic diseases as not-lived higher possibilities.Marie-Louise von Franz
This morning I had an interesting thought. Should people feel obligated to live up to their highest potential in a society that doesn’t support them doing so?
For as long as I remember, I have pushed myself in whatever areas I felt were worthy of my focus and attention. And whenever I felt it was time to walk away from something, I’d leave with the same level of conviction, making sure to kick the dust off my feet on the way out. In many ways, I took the Jesus teaching of “Let your yes be yes and your no be no,” very seriously. Very seriously. So seriously in fact that I can tell you that without a doubt, I was willing to die for whatever I held to be, what I’ll call, the impersonal Truth–the Truth that didn’t care about my feelings or anyone else’s, the Truth that is always true and will reveal itself eventually whether in my lifetime or in some undisclosed future.
Now let me say that I didn’t reserve my convictions for anything temporary like people’s opinions. I didn’t even care about my own opinion on things. What I was aiming for was aligning myself with Universal principles and making my decisions accordingly. I didn’t concern myself with temporary outcomes or people’s conditional approval. I just wanted to discover reality and go wherever it led me–even if it was death.
Needless to say, this approach to life was not too common. And because of it, my motivations rarely matched with my peers or even my family for that matter. Often accused of being too serious or an old man in a little child’s body, I was dedicated to this course of thought. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I started to piece together at least part of the reason why I was like this.
The unexamined life is not worth living.Socrates
I don’t know where I first read this quote from Socrates, but it resonated with me completely. And it still does today, albeit within a different framework.
I now think that I must examine my own life in order to experience it as worth living. Whereas, I once thought if others didn’t examine their own lives they weren’t worth engaging. Nothing bothered me more than being in a conversation with someone who had what I considered to be regurgitated thoughts and opinions. I really couldn’t abide by it. I didn’t care if someone had an opinion that differed from mine or even one that diametrically opposed mine as long as it was the result of that person’s examination. Any other method of arriving at one’s opinion seemed to be just a pure waste of human potential. And if the person’s life was unexamined, I felt that the fruit of that life was a waste product even if they had achieved everything the world calls successful.
Being born shortly after a decade of Black leaders being assassinated and growing up in a society that communicated that looking like me could quickly cut a good forty to fifty years off of my life, I was hyper aware of my own mortality. Combining that with being an overly active church participant with strong ties to the local Islamic community, led me think a lot about what I could do with the time I have here. As I’ve spoken about before, I didn’t really expect to live past 18. So I didn’t want to waste what little time I had on anything I deemed worthless. Besides, if I was going to die young, I didn’t want my mother and grandmother to have to lie at my funeral. Hence the seriousness and the ardent desire to examine my life—no matter how short it might possibly be. So I decided to keep my eyes open to everything that passed my gaze. And what I observed disturbed me.
It didn’t take me long to observe that most of the people I knew weren’t paying attention at all. In fact, it appeared to me that most folks were actively working to be distracted. Before I knew words like systemic and corruption and denial and projection, I saw them acted out everywhere and it angered me. But it took me a long time to figure out why. Most of us had been lied to.
Switching gears a bit, let me ask you, how do you know if someone is living up to their potential? Where does potential begin in a person’s life—from the moment of their first breath or from the moment they become self aware? And does everyone have the same potential?
In America, I know that we like to espouse the notion that this is a country where anyone can live up to their highest potential if they just work hard enough. We love one off stories about people coming from the pits to the palace using only their will and their wits. But, there are many other stories of folks who have poured everything that was in them trying to get ahead just a little bit while the same nation that tells them they can be anything they want to be denies them the opportunities to do so. If you’re paying attention, it can be crazy-making.
Once I got clear on this, I realized that people weren’t distracting themselves because they weren’t examining their lives. Many of them were distracting themselves precisely because they had examined their lives and they were tired of the agony of defeat. They were tired of visions violated and dreams deferred and they needed escape in whatever form they could get it. Did that mean they were wasting their potential? No. It meant that they didn’t know how to measure it because they were living in an environment with a skewed value system. They weren’t wasting their potential. America was and is.
Recently a good friend told me that he started out at a company making somewhere around $1.50 an hour and that when he retired 48 years later he was making more than $16. I could hear the pride in his voice when he told me. So, I didn’t let on that I was about to cry hearing that. This was on the same day that the $15 minimum wage was voted down.
When I heard that this didn’t pass, I wasn’t surprised. But I’m flirting with disappointment. As a person who still is examining my life even in the midst of pain, I have long observed the futility of disappointment. So, I rarely draw on its energies for motivation.
There can’t be great disappointment without great love.Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr
Before Rev. King was murdered, he was trying to organize America’s poor people. Since learning this, I have been convinced that this was the campaign that really led to his death. Imagine poor people of every walk of life working together with the support of their better resourced partners advocating for and achieving an economy that actually fosters potential rather than fight it. I can imagine it and I know that it is possible. And that is why I am tempted to draw energy from my disappointment in order to be a part of the conversation about a better way.
In one of the posts I shared recently, When the Economy No Longer Serves Humanity, Create a New One…, I reintroduced a program my friend Scott Smith created called the Financial Freedom Act. It is a vision of a new economy that facilitates our citizens recognizing and living into their highest potential. When I heard what Scott was working on and read his book, The Emerging Kingdom: An Economic Guidebook to Building a Nation That is a Better Place to Live, I was encouraged by the thought that there was a goal toward which I could aim my energies in terms when it came to promoting a more equitable environment.
It often angers me that so much in life is measured in dollars and nonsense. Whenever I participate in our current economic model, I can’t help but bring to my exchanges the awareness of what our current system was built on.
Since becoming conscious of this, I have worked to not allow money to be my motivator for the choices I make. It’s not that I am opposed to receiving money in exchange for offering something of value to people. But I have chosen to not let it be my guide. As Jesus said, “You can’t serve two masters. You can’t serve God and mammon. You will hate one and love the other.” So from the American value system’s perspective that makes me a failure. But I’m cool with that.
To be wealthy and honored in an unjust society is a disgrace.Confucius
Given what I have examined in my life so far, I have come to see that Jesus was on point. And I agree with Confucius. So I have asked myself what it would take to create a society where wealth and honor would not be a disgrace? What would it take to create a society that is an incubator of potential rather than an incinerator of it? In my efforts to figure that out, I have struggled with how to communicate the possibility of such a place. The poem below is my attempt to articulate that struggle and what I think it will take to stay the course.
On Being a Moneymaker
All these years I’ve been living life
Like money isn’t real
Never making decisions based on it
But focusing more on how I feel
I’ve walked away from high paying gigs
To work in shipping and receiving
Just because I wanted to
No thought of what I was achieving
I’ve disappointed around the world
For not fulfilling my potential
All the while feeling quite at peace
With an air that’s presidential
I felt just like a rich man
Doing what I wanted to do
Never thinking that my bank account
Meant my riches were not true
I saw life as an adventure
A journey to be savored
All I needed was provided for
As if I lived a life of favor
Then someone brought to my attention
That I was not living life to plan
I should be a millionaire by now
Getting everything I can
But instead I’m still just bopping along
Doing what I do
Believing that everything is working out
In accordance with heaven’s view
But lately I’ve been wondering
What if I’ve been wrong
What if seeking Truth is a task for fools
And life was about Benjamins all along
Then that puts me way behind
I may never win the race
All my friends are miles ahead
While I was running in One Place
What if love of money isn’t evil
But love of God is the distraction?
What if I’ve been “bait and switched”
And missed my chance at satisfaction?
I could have been a moneymaker
The one calling all the shots
Instead of trying to know my soul
And purify my thoughts
I could have been stacking paper
Collecting fees and cashing checks
Instead of studying root causes
So that I can undo their ill effects
When I was busy seeking the Kingdom
Stuff was added to another
It might turn out I’m the prodigal
Being shamed by the other brother
What if YOLO* was the real deal
While I was thinking I’d live forever?
Which had me living fancy free
When I should have been under pressure?
When I was considering the lilies
And the birds of the air
I should have considered my 401k
Instead of casting all my cares
Well at least that’s what I’ve been wondering
For at least the past few years
When people were looking down on me
For not passing up my peers
They tell me that with a mind like mine
They would’ve managed so much more
But I said if their mind was just like mine
They wouldn’t be keeping score
The fact is that while I’m wondering
If my choices were mistakes
I do so from Eternity
Which is beyond both time and space
I can always be a moneymaker
In fact I’ve been one at other times
That’s why I know the value it really has
Comes not from what it buys
Money is a form of expression
For what you hold most dear
So what we have or do not have
Can’t make our riches clear
So the best measure of my worth
Is the measure of my love
And how much I can give of it
Is all I should be thinking of.
© Copyright 2015 Pedro S. Silva II
*You Only Live Once