As a self-motivated American Dream/Reality promoter and possibly even your counselor and mentor (I only take on this role if you are voluntarily reading my blog on a regular basis), I am getting bold and repetitive about financial autonomy—BECAUSE I BELIEVE IN YOU.
I believe that you can solve your own problems and crises if you will but seek out financial truth, raise your head above the din of everyday drudgery, and set your determined gaze on that truth.
In a phrase: rather than focusing on The Economy, focus on Personal Economy.
Do you have an economic goal and a financial plan?
Are you actually striving for a specific desired financial end result or are you just getting by?
Will you have a secure and adequate financial base when you decide to retire?
During the winter holiday season, I always take time out to read a few books that have been waiting patiently on my shelf. This season, I am reading a few Industrial Age and Great Depression era biographies, namely: Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, Henry Ford, and George Eastman.
This period covers about 100 years beginning in the1840’s through the 1940’s. Many people lost all that they had and others did very well during this period. Yes some people did well due to corruption and cheating the system.
Others gained wealth due to being at the right place at the right time, but the majority did well or poorly as a result of following or not following sound principles of finance and whether or not they lived or avoided Clason’s Law (George Clason, Author of Richest Man in Babylon, explains that people stay in financial bondage who strive for a standard of living at or beyond their income, regardless how much they earn).
It is fascinating to study these men’s lives. Many started out with much less innate talent or resources than you have now, but they overcame their less than favorable circumstances and not only did very well financially, they left a legacy that we now enjoy.
I wanted to read about these men in depth because for decades I have been influenced by hearsay and public “common knowledge.” I wanted to know for myself who these men were and what they stood for.
I do not agree with every method and every conviction held by these Titans of the Industrial Age, but only after studying their lives and getting into their heads can I now say that I think I understand them at some level and realize that whether I agree or disagree is not the issue.
Intention is the true criteria upon which we should make judgment. Intention means much more to me than passing social morality or legalism.
To judge a man by his intention is to look into his heart. We seldom accomplish what we dream of, in fact often we come up miserably short, but that does not change the fact that we were motivated by a beautiful dream. And that we should be judged by our intentions and not our less than perfect manifestation of those intentions.
But I digress.
One of the most basic concepts I discovered in the study of these great men (meaning impactful not necessarily good) is that they saw the world differently than the general population* and clearly understood the proper relationship between four economic realities: Income, Expenses, Assets, and Liabilities.
There is a great distinction between those who follow the Liability Cycle versus those who concentrate on the Asset Cycle.
Let me explain.
The typical middle class American seeks a good job so that they can earn enough income to qualify for as many liabilities (for a Clason’s Law standard of living) as possible, which then obligates all of their income to pay monthly expenses. This creates an impression and feeling of a high standard of living but in reality it expends all income and incurs unsustainable debt.
This is commonly known as the “Rat Race” or the Liability Cycle.
The wealthy or those moving toward wealth employ a different strategy. They begin living substantially under their means or income, then use the resultant savings to purchase assets, which in turn generates passive or residual income.
The increase of income (residual income) covers the monthly expenses, allowing the person to save and invest even more. Still living under their earned income, they are able to purchase even more assets, creating even more residual income and so it goes.
Over time, the residual income from assets exceeds their expenses and they are financially free. Then the residual income exceeds their earned income and they quit their job. This I am calling the Asset Cycle.
The beauty is that any person regardless of their situation or how much damage they have caused themselves financially, can begin applying the Asset Cycle today and in due course, raise themselves out of the nightmare of debt, low self-esteem, and destroyed dreams caused by the Liability Cycle.
Understanding the magic of this process is just one lesson to be learned from studying the Industrial Age and Great Depression eras.
*One of my mentors from 20 years ago took a class at Stanford in the 1950’s called “Contrary Opinion.” The point of the class was to prove that most people are wrong most of the time. So don’t follow the crowd. By doing the opposite of what most of the people are doing, you have a greater chance at success.
Most Americans are either ignoring this fact of life hoping it will go away, or facing its eventuality with fear and trembling.
Based on a year’s worth of research, I am certain that 9 out of 10 people reading this blog fit that category.
There is plenty of available data showing the hopelessness of the situation.
Economists speculate on the massive Baby Boomer retirement fall-out they say is sure to come over the next decade.
From numerous reports it appears that the typical bread-winner leaves the workforce at age 65 with around $50,000 in assets —a drop in the retirement bucket especially as many are living longer.
OK fine, we are facing economic challenges, so what?
Our predecessors faced and overcame challenges for centuries. America has a long and illustrious history of standing up to adversity and coming out on top.
For crying out loud—our ancestors carved a civilization out of the wilderness, populated an unknown land, produced most of the world’s food, most of the technology and single-handedly create a new thing called the middle-class while other nations watched in utter amazement.
How did they do this?
Americans are resilient. Americans are resourceful. We dream big and play big. And what of Yankee Ingenuity, the Puritan Work Ethic, common sense, and pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps?
For two centuries, we provided hope for a life with political freedom, economic prosperity, and an increased standard of living for millions around the globe, but now we are being told that we are finished, beyond hope, and helpless to solve our current crisis.
And some are actually falling for it. I refuse to accept that version of reality.
I refuse to acknowledge that the American Dream can no longer become the American Life.
I refuse to give-in, knuckle under, and forfeit my children’s future.
My version of reality is that there is actually more opportunity now for financial success than at any time in the history of America—if we will embrace it!
Please forgive me if what I write here offends you but seriously, how wimpy are we? Humanity has overcome crises and challenges much greater than the American retirement problem.
Don’t get me wrong, at least in terms of impact, this is a pervasive challenge and has serious national implications not unlike the specter of global domination by the Nazis or the challenges of the Great Depression. And if you are in your 50’s or 60’s this is without a doubt scary and imposing.
But when you remove the emotion and analyze it scientifically, it is simply a matter of understanding the causes of the problem and devising solutions. Ok, so maybe we will have to voluntarily reduce our standard of living for a while or stop going into debt for vacations or the latest fashions. Gasp…we might even have to live within our means…are these things really that hard to understand and implement?
Maybe Forrest Gump was right, “stupid is as stupid does.” Sorry but our choices over the past 3 decades have put us in this position.
Robert Kiyosaki’s Cashflow Quadrants
The American retirement problem is nothing more than an issue of perspective.
Look at the Cashflow Quadrants chart—American economic philosophy was founded on the Business and Investor side of the chart or the concept of entrepreneurship.
Americans from the very beginning lived from the perspective and belief that they had to take care of themselves.
They knew their standard of living and financial security rested on their personal ability to plan for the future and to take full responsibility for that future.
But since the Industrial Revolution, our general economic philosophy has shifted to the employee side of the chart. Entrepreneurship is actually shunned by most, or at the very least, misunderstood. We traded common citizen business savvy and investor acumen for the accumulation or “nest egg” mentality, which has morphed over the last 30 years into an existence of life-long debt and dependence on government.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that being an employee alone leads to economic slavery and dependence. Without the basic tenets of business and investing as part of our personal financial strategy, we have no hope of true prosperity and financial security.
So the solution is simple—return to our former philosophy of owning businesses and investing. I know that this might be simple in concept but difficult in application however, this is where our ingenuity, tenacity and hard work come in.
Thousands of Americans have figured this out and you can too if you only have the will and desire to make the necessary changes. If you are serious about changing your situation and are willing to focus and even sacrifice for five to ten years, you can solve the American retirement crisis for yourself and perhaps even share your solutions with friends and family.
While there are undoubtedly dozens of potential fixes to choose from, I have 2 that I recommend as solutions to the American Retirement Crisis.
But they will only serve as solutions if you actually act on them, so click on these links and investigate the options they provide. If these are not the right actions for you to take fine, BUT TAKE ACTION some how to change your current situation. You are your best chance at a secure financial future.
I have been thinking a lot about my mortality lately. No, I don’t have any premonitions, but Julia and I just updated our Revocable Living Trust and it always makes me think about my life, my relationships, and whether or not I am doing all I can for my family.
My first job right after discharge from the Navy in 1987 was selling pre-need cemetery plots.
I was in South Carolina and after 6 months I became the top salesman for Memorial Gardens Plantation.
This was an eye-opener for me!
I was 26-years-old and boy did I get an education on death and everything related to it. I believed in my product (the pre-need purchase of burial plots and associated items, a 100% need for every human being) and that I was saving families thousands of dollars by making the purchase before the death of a loved one. But what really cemented it for me was the following experience.
One evening while I was preparing to make my house calls to pre-arranged appointments, a beautiful young woman came into the cemetery office with a baby in her arms.
She was crying and I suddenly realized something terrible had happened and I was witnessing a young widow making funeral arrangements.
I watched in shock as the cemetery director explained to this distraught woman the typical procedures and costs and need for a vault, a casket, the headstone, etc.
His matter-of-fact explanation is not what bothered me. What infuriated me was the way in which he was leading her to purchase the most expensive items, appealing to her loss and love for her husband.
I was so upset that I determined right there that I would work even harder to persuade people make all of these arrangements pre-need, which translated into thousands of dollars in savings, but also having these kinds of arrangements taken care of before the event of death, the survivors would be saved tremendous agony and heart ache. Since that experience, I have always had life insurance, a will, and later an estate plan.
I am not rich by any stretch of the imagination, so my estate is small, but I just feel so much better knowing that Julia and the kids will not have to make a bunch of decisions upon my eventual passing. If they want to be mad about the decisions made, they can be upset with me–the one who is gone, not with each other.
Do you have your affairs in order?
Do you have a solid retirement plan in place?
Do you have a current estate plan in place?
Are you willing to take the time and expense to do all of these hard things now while you can for your loved ones, or are you going to leave it to them during their grief?
Estate Planning is an integral part of wealth building.
Without an estate plan, everything you treasure will be left to chance and likely loss.
But these losses are often just the “tip of the iceberg”. The horror stories associated with disagreements over who gets what and when and even how, are what divides families and often destroys relationships for a lifetime.
By creating an estate plan you control all these decisions, relieving your loved ones of the stress and hardship they would have faced had you not been proactive.
There is one fact of life we all face; death. We know that death is unavoidable, and can happen at anytime and anywhere. Stop and think; you have home owners insurance despite not thinking your home is going to burn down, and car insurance even though you don’t expect to be in an accident.
You insure your home and car in case something does happen. Having a comprehensive estate plan is how you control your estate, and make tough decisions when life’s inevitable events do occur.
In the best selling book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” Steven Covey emphasizes the importance of planning. Two of Steven’s habits speak directly to the importance of estate planning.
Habit 1 – “Being proactive is about taking responsibility for your life”. Comprehensive estate planning is all about being proactive.
Habit 2 – “Begin with the end in mind.” Estate planning is about you being in control over how you want your life to “play out,” and how critical decisions will be made when it becomes necessary.
Julia and I just updated our estate plan. It may not be the most enjoyable activity, but Julia feels so much more secure and I feel like I am being as responsible as I can.
How Much Does Estate-planning Cost?
I did some digging and found a basic range of family estate planning costs from $1,800 to $6,500 per living trust. Also, you should plan needing to update at least every few years, figure about $300-$500 per update. I am sure there are cheaper and more expensive planning options, but this is what I found.
Who Should Do Your Planning?
I also researched a little on this and found anything from do-it-yourself websites to attorneys who are happy to have you in their office during multiple sessions, as long as you don’t mind all of those billable hours.
For those who have little time and want to get it safely done with as little fuss as possible, we suggest taking at look at Strongbrook’s Estate Planning Program.
So Stephen Palmer and I were attending a huge 3-day conference last week. During a break, Steve motioned me over and said, “you got to read this!”
I was blown away! He really nailed it and I just had to share this with you.
This is reprinted from Inspirational Weekly.
Are you perfectly content with your life?
I hope not.
I hope you are driven by a divine discontentment. But I also hope that your discontentment leads to growth rather than grumbling, progress rather than protesting.
I once wrote that you should always be dissatisfied. But the truth is that I used the wrong word. There’s a profound difference, I’ve learned, between mere dissatisfaction and deep hunger.
There’s no shortage of dissatisfied people in America. Unemployment, underemployment, investment losses, political scandal, the disappearance of the middle class and the widening gap between rich and poor, the erosion of trust in institutions have all taken their toll.
Far fewer, unfortunately, are the people who are truly hungry.
The foundation of dissatisfaction is entitlement. The foundation of hunger is hope.
Dissatisfied is being ticked off at the world because you deserve a better life, and you blame everyone but yourself for your miserable life.
Hungry is being grateful for what you have, while also striving for something better. It’s being humble without being subservient. It’s taking absolute responsibility for your life and your circumstances, trusting in the timeless American value that anyone who works hard can make it.
Dissatisfied people look for handouts; hungry people look for opportunities. Dissatisfaction complains; hunger works. Dissatisfied people seek shortcuts; hungry people pay the price.
Dissatisfied is the entitled American whining about losing his job as he’s stretched out on the sofa collecting unemployment checks. Hungry is the hopeful immigrant hustling to make a buck as he’s stretched thin across three menial jobs.
I recently heard a speech from a man who, when he decided to take his business to Mexico, was told by many people, “Why in the world would you do that? Those people down there only earn about $700 a month. They don’t have any money to give you.”
He responded, “Yes, but the difference is this: In America, when I ask people if they want to make more money they say, ‘Do I have to do anything for it?’ In Mexico they say one word: ‘Sí.’”
Dissatisfaction is discouraged, disheartened, despondent, despairing. Hunger is eager, enthusiastic, optimistic, determined.
Ironically, dissatisfaction is just a twisted and pathetic form of satisfaction; it’s complaining about your life without earning the right to do so by doing something about it. As I recently wrote, if you’re not willing to do something about what bothers you, it must not bother you all that much.
Dissatisfaction has settled for the status quo, but isn’t happy about it. Hunger is driven and ambitious, and finds joy and meaning in the struggle.
An even further irony is that dissatisfied people are skeptical of opportunities and solutions. They feel sick but they reject the very medicine that could save them. They hate their corporate job but they wouldn’t dream of starting a part-time business.
Dissatisfaction demands comfort and security. Hunger yearns for freedom.
Dissatisfaction is dependent; hunger is self-reliant. Dissatisfied people expect other people and institutions to satisfy them. Hungry people say, “If it is to be, it’s up to me.”
Dissatisfaction is helpless; hunger is resourceful. Dissatisfaction gives away your power; hunger gathers, focuses, and expands it.
Dissatisfaction is toxic; hunger is contagious. Dissatisfaction spreads through organizations and cultures like a disease; hunger spreads like wildfire in the souls of men.
Dissatisfaction feeds on itself; petty complaints fester and multiply into implacable grievances.
Hunger both feeds on your dreams and feeds your dreams. The harder a hungry person strives to achieve his dream, the more powerful and compelling the dream becomes.
Hunger is the bridge between contentment and dissatisfaction. It prevents contentment from slipping into mediocrity, and provides a positive outlet for dissatisfaction.
I hope you love your life. But I also hope you always stay hungry.
This post is a reprint of the November 5 ,2014 article from the Intercollegiate Review.
Twenty-five years ago last week, the Berlin Wall fell.
In retrospect, what event fails to suggest a certain inevitability about itself, conveying the sense that because it happened it had to have happened?
Twenty-five years ago this week, the Berlin Wall finally fell.
Of course it did.
How could it have remained in place a day longer? For that matter, how could the Soviet Union itself have failed to fall?
How could the Cold War have ended any other way than in a victory for the West?
History preserves only the events that took place, permitting the alternatives—the contingencies and near misses—to fade, disappearing completely in the end.
Yet if you’d like proof that history isn’t predetermined—that history contains within itself a multitude of alternative realities, of near misses and might-have-beens—consider the address that President Ronald Reagan delivered at the Brandenburg Gate twenty-nine months before the Berlin Wall came down.
“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Those words were very nearly dropped from the president’s text.
How do I know? I wrote the address.
The Angry Hausfrau
In April 1987 the celebrations for the 750th anniversary of the founding of Berlin were under way.
Queen Elizabeth had already visited the city. Mikhail Gorbachev was due in a matter of days.
Although President Reagan hadn’t been planning to visit Berlin himself, he was going to be in Europe in early June, first visiting Rome, then spending several days in Venice for an economic summit.
At the request of the West German government his schedule was adjusted to permit him to stop in Berlin for a few hours on his way back to the United States from Italy.
I was then serving as a speechwriter to the president and was assigned to write the Berlin address. I was told only that the president would be speaking at the Berlin Wall, that he was likely to draw an audience of about ten thousand, and that, given the setting, he probably ought to talk about foreign policy.
In late April I spent a day and a half in Berlin with the White House advance team, the logistical experts, Secret Service agents, and press officials who went to the site of every presidential visit to make arrangements. All I had to do in Berlin was find material. When I met the ranking American diplomat in Berlin, I assumed he would give me some.
A stocky man with thick glasses, the diplomat projected an anxious, distracted air throughout our conversation, as if the very prospect of a visit from Ronald Reagan made him nervous. The diplomat gave me quite specific instructions. Almost all of it was in the negative. He was full of ideas about what the president shouldn’t say.
The most left-leaning of all West Germans, the diplomat informed me, West Berliners were intellectually and politically sophisticated. The president would therefore have to watch himself. No chest thumping. No Soviet bashing. And no inflammatory statements about the Berlin Wall. West Berliners, the diplomat explained, had long ago gotten used to the structure that encircled them.
After I left the diplomat, several members of the advance team and I were given a flight over the city in a U.S. Air Force helicopter. Although all that remains of the wall these days are paving stones that show where it stood, in 1987 the structure dominated Berlin. From the air, the wall seemed less to cut one city in two than to separate two different modes of existence.
On one side lay movement, color, modern architecture, crowded sidewalks, traffic. On the other lay a kind of void. Buildings still exhibited pockmarks from shelling during the war. Cars appeared few and decrepit, pedestrians badly dressed.
The wall itself, which from West Berlin had seemed a simple concrete structure, was revealed from the air as an intricate complex, the East Berlin side lined with guard posts, dog runs, and row upon row of barbed wire. The pilot drew our attention to pits of raked gravel. If an East German guard ever let anybody slip past him to escape to West Berlin, the pilot told us, the guard would find himself forced to explain the footprints to his commanding officer.
That evening, I broke away from the advance team to join a dozen Berliners for dinner. Our hosts were Dieter and Ingeborg Elz. Germans themselves, the Elzes had retired to Berlin after Dieter completed his career at the World Bank in Washington. Although we had never met, we had friends in common, and the Elzes offered to put on this dinner party to give me a feel for their city. They had invited Berliners of different walks of life and political outlooks—businessmen, academics, students, homemakers.
We chatted for a while about the weather, German wine, and the cost of housing in Berlin.
Then I related what the diplomat told me, explaining that after my flight over the city I found it difficult to believe.
“Is it true?” I asked. “Have you gotten used to the wall?”
The Elzes and their guests glanced at one another uneasily.
I thought I had proven myself just the sort of brash, tactless American the diplomat was afraid the president might seem.
Then one man raised an arm and pointed. “My sister lives twenty miles in that direction,” he said. “I haven’t seen her in more than two decades. Do you think I can get used to that?”
Another man spoke. Each morning on his way to work, he explained, he walked past a guard tower. Each morning, the same soldier gazed down at him through binoculars. “That soldier and I speak the same language. We share the same history. But one of us is a zookeeper and the other is an animal, and I am never certain which is which.”
Our hostess broke in. A gracious woman, she had suddenly grown angry. Her face was red. She made a fist with one hand and pounded it into the palm of the other. “If this man Gorbachev is serious with his talk ofglasnost and perestroika,” she said, “he can prove it. He can get rid of this wall.”
“That’s What I’d Like to Say”
Back at the White House I told Tony Dolan, then director of presidential speechwriting, that I intended to adapt Ingeborg Elz’s comment, making a call to tear down the Berlin Wall the central passage in the speech. Tony took me across the street from the Old Executive Office Building to the West Wing to sell the idea to the director of communications, Tom Griscom.
“The two of you thought you’d have to work real hard to keep me from saying no,” Griscom now says. “But when you told me about the trip, particularly this point of learning from some Germans just how much they hated the wall, I thought to myself, ‘You know, calling for the wall to be torn down—it might just work.’ ”
The following week I produced an acceptable draft. It needed work, but it set out the main elements of the address, including the challenge to tear down the wall. On Friday, May 15, the speeches for the president’s trip to Rome, Venice, and Berlin, including my draft, were forwarded to the president, and on Monday, May 18, the speechwriters joined him in the Oval Office. My speech was the last we discussed. Tom Griscom asked the president for his comments on my draft. The president replied simply that he liked it.
Now, you might suppose that after hearing the president say he liked his draft, a speechwriter would feel so delighted he’d leave it at that. Somehow, it didn’t work that way. As a speechwriter you spent your working life watching Reagan, talking about Reagan, reading about Reagan, attempting to inhabit the very mind of Reagan. When you joined him in the Oval Office, you didn’t want to hear him say simply that he liked your work. You wanted to get him talking, revealing himself. So you’d go into each meeting with a question or two you hoped would intrigue him.
“Mr. President,” I said, “I learned on the advance trip that your speech will be heard not only in West Berlin but throughout East Germany.”
Depending on weather conditions, I explained, radios would be able to pick up the speech as far east as Moscow itself.
“Is there anything you’d like to say to people on the other side of the Berlin Wall?”
The president cocked his head and thought. “Well,” he replied, “there’s that passage about tearing down the wall. That wall has to come down. That’s what I’d like to say to them.”
With three weeks to go before it was delivered, the speech was circulated to the State Department and the National Security Council (NSC). Both attempted to squelch it. The assistant secretary of state for Eastern European affairs challenged the speech by telephone.
A senior member of the NSC staff protested the speech in memoranda. The ranking American diplomat in Berlin objected to the speech by cable. The draft was naive. It would raise false hopes. It was clumsy. It was needlessly provocative. State and the NSC submitted their own alternate drafts—my journal records that there were no fewer than seven, including one written by the diplomat in Berlin. In each, the call to tear down the wall was missing.
Now, in principle, State and the NSC had no objection to a call for the destruction of the wall. The draft the diplomat in Berlin submitted, for example, contained the line, “One day, this ugly wall will disappear.” If the diplomat’s line was acceptable, I wondered at first, what was wrong with mine?
Then I looked at the diplomat’s line once again. “One day”? One day the lion would lie with the lamb, too, but you wouldn’t want to hold your breath. “This ugly wall will disappear”? What did that mean? That the wall would just get up and slink off of its own accord? The wall would disappear only when the Soviets knocked it down or let somebody else knock it down for them, but “this ugly wall will disappear” ignored the question of human agency altogether.
What State and the NSC were saying, in effect, was that the president could go right ahead and issue a call for the destruction of the wall—but only if he employed language so vague and euphemistic that everybody could see right away he didn’t mean it.
The week the president left for Europe, Tom Griscom began summoning me to his office each time State or the NSC submitted a new objection. Each time, Griscom had me tell him why I believed State and the NSC were wrong and the speech, as I’d written it, was right. When I reached Griscom’s office on one occasion, I found Colin Powell, then deputy national security adviser, waiting for me. I was a thirty-year-old who had never held a full-time job outside speechwriting.
Powell was a decorated general. After listening to Powell recite all the arguments against the speech in his accustomed forceful manner, however, I heard myself reciting all the arguments in favor of the speech in an equally forceful manner. I could scarcely believe my own tone of voice. Powell looked a little taken aback himself.
President Reagan at the Brandenburg Gate June 12, 1987
A few days before the president was to leave for Europe, Tom Griscom received a call from the White House chief of staff, Howard Baker, asking Griscom to step down the hall to his office.
“I walked in and it was Senator Baker [Baker had served in the Senate before becoming chief of staff] and the secretary of state—just the two of them.”
Secretary of State George Shultz now objected to the speech.
“He said, ‘I really think that line about tearing down the wall is going to be an affront to Mr. Gorbachev,’ ” Griscom recalls.
“I told him the speech would put a marker out there. ‘Mr. Secretary,’ I said, ‘the president has commented on this particular line and he’s comfortable with it. And I can promise you that this line will reverberate.’ The secretary of state clearly was not happy, but he accepted it. I think that closed the subject.”
When the traveling party reached Italy (I remained in Washington), the secretary of state objected to the speech once again, this time to deputy chief of staff Kenneth Duberstein. “Shultz thought the line was too tough on Gorbachev,” Duberstein says.
On June 5, Duberstein sat the president down in the garden of the estate in which he was staying, briefed him on the objections to the speech, then handed him a copy of the speech, asking him to reread the central passage.
Reagan asked Duberstein’s advice. Duberstein replied that he thought the line about tearing down the wall sounded good. “But I told him, ‘You’re president, so you get to decide.’ And then,” Duberstein recalls, “he got that wonderful, knowing smile on his face, and he said, ‘Let’s leave it in.’ ”
The day the president arrived in Berlin, State and the NSC submitted yet another alternate draft. “They were still at it on the very morning of the speech,” says Tony Dolan. “I’ll never forget it.” Yet in the limousine on the way to the Berlin Wall, the president told Duberstein he was determined to deliver the controversial line. Reagan smiled. “The boys at State are going to kill me,” he said, “but it’s the right thing to do.”
The Lessons of History
No matter how it may seem in retrospect, there was nothing inevitable about the event that took place twenty-five years ago this week. The fall of the Berlin Wall took place because certain men and women—people including Pope John Paul II, Margaret Thatcher, Lech Walesa, and Ronald Reagan—took certain specific actions, demonstrating their capacity for reason and courage. And that, really, is why we study history: to remind ourselves that if those who went before us could do the right thing, then we can do no less ourselves.
Peter Robinson is editor in chief of Ricochet.com, research fellow at the Hoover Institution, and host of the interview program Uncommon Knowledge. He is the author of several books, including How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life, from which parts of this essay are adapted.
I was approached recently by a friend who was elected last year to his local city council.
He was looking for a book on municipal government to help take a principled approach to the myriad issues he faces from property rights and valid zoning restrictions, to pet laws and public infrastructure, from Sunday use of public sports facilities and local alcohol license restrictions, to backyard hens and the fluoridation of their municipal water supply.
But I think the problem goes deeper than these issues and I am quite certain the solution is more than a book.
It’s Just Broken
I understand that society, like language, evolves, and that is not always a bad thing. But there are so many changes in our society that seem counter-productive or actually destructive that I am now fully alarmed.
What if society is actually broken, and like the frogs in a pot of slowly heated water, we have become so used to the gradual degradation that we don’t and won’t see the damage until it is too late for our marriages, our families, and our communities?
American culture was built on the principles of husband and wife marital fidelity, familial togetherness and dependence, and local community spirit. As these things are being replaced with “A Brave New World” style sexuality, a normalization of broken, blended, and single-parent homes, and dependence on state and federal government handouts, how will this impact the future of society?
In western and eastern cultures, society has been a focus of human endeavor since before Moses, Aristotle, or Muhammad. Society is a human condition. It is a balance of living in close proximity in a community setting, while maintaining a sense of individualism and family. I am always taken back by stories like Little House on the Prairie or the stories of the Wild West, stories of people wanting to get away from it all and then seeking human companionship as soon as they achieve isolation.
Society has always been made up of segments or institutions that work together to satisfy the contradiction of the individual’s need to be alone, and the desire to be surrounded by structure and the masses of humanity.
These institutions can be generally identified as: education, business, family, religion/church, media, community, and government. Each of these institutions fulfills a need in society both collectively and individually and has a tendency to support the other institutions. But as human nature has both good and bad, each of these social institutions has a natural inclination to lord over the others.
Without spirituality or religion/church, we have no central sense of right and wrong; without business, we have little economic stability or wealth creation; without family, we struggle to fill our deep-seated need for familial love, respect, honor and security; without government our rights have little probability of being protected; without media (well maybe we could do without the media) we have no connection to the rest of the world or even the next city over; without a system of education, we can not perpetuate who we are or progress beyond bare necessities; without community we feel alone and isolated.
Institutions of Society
It is likely in our complex world that we have given the social institutions idea little thought, but take it away, for example, as during the disaster of hurricane Katrina, and you get a very clear vision of life without orderly society. But it doesn’t have to take a natural disaster to threaten the peace of organized society. One of the most common threats to peaceful, invigorating, nurturing society is the rise of one institution over the others.
The most obvious are a tyrannical government or heavy-handed church authority. History is replete with accounts of both and the outcome was never good. This dominant position can be achieved either by force and coercion or by gentle, constant persuasion (Alexis De Tocqueville discusses this at length in his classic Democracy in America). To better understand this concept, see the illustrations below:
CAPITALISM (Not to be confused with Free Enterprise)
The lack of true leadership in any one of these social institutions accompanied by the subsequent imbalance of power, causes a society to go astray and for the citizens to suffer. This all sounds kind of academic, but there are many historic and current examples of this kind of social imbalance and the damage it leaves in its wake.
Which brings me to Lady Gaga. (I know you have been waiting for this)
I didn’t like Madonna and I like Lady Gaga even less…but you have to hand it to both of these so-called artists, they both exhibit qualities that are vital to the success of Social Leaders and Statesmen.
Both of these modern musical icons had a vision of where they wanted to go, they believed in their ability to accomplish that goal, and they let nothing stop them in their pursuit.
It was almost a religion to them.
How many great (meaning impactful, not wonderful) men and women in history exhibited these same qualities? These character traits are neutral, they can be used by both moral and immoral individuals. Both liberty and tyranny have benefited from the application of these leadership traits.
But make no mistake–impactful and long lasting leadership must include; a strong sense of vision for the future, a firm belief in the rightness of one’s cause/vision, and a relentless pursuit of that vision. On a local level, we call this Social Leadership.
Social leadership is simple but not necessarily easy. It is the act of providing leadership–as described above– in one or more the seven social institutions. This sounds simplistic, but how many parents/spouses, for example, are engaged in promoting, protecting and perpetuating the sanctity of the family—just by how they live?
How many grandparents really understand their role in the family, and sacrifice to be involved in the lives of their grandkids?
How business owners do you know who ensure that their business or corporation promotes values and virtues, how many entrepreneurs feel a stewardship towards the population who provide their living?
People who practice Social Leadership by applying vision, belief, and tenacity to one or more of these institutions seldom acquire fame or recognition, but without them the very fabric of our peace and tranquility would be destroyed.
An advance level of Social Leadership is the perilous job of maintaining the balance of all these various institutions.
This is a job designed for that individual who after acquiring a strong liberal arts education and years of experience in Social Leadership in her chosen institution(s) of society, now feels the call to work from the bigger picture to advocate, maintain and sustain that delicate balance of societal power so vital to lasting happiness.
We call this type of person a Statesman.
Our definition (actually the great philosopher Aristotle’s definition) is that “what the statesman is most anxious to produce is a certain moral character in his fellow citizens, namely a disposition to virtue and the performance of virtuous actions.”
In Lee Iacocca’s book Where Have All the Leaders Gone?, he strikes a poignant cord—with all of these problems we are facing, where is the outrage? And now that he mentions it, where the heck are all of the leaders?
Why is no one other than “beltway fever” politicians putting forth answers, and bad ones at that.
Why are we all just standing around waiting? And what are we waiting for? Where are the ordinary men and women who are the legacy of this great nation?
The Sergeant York’s, the Mr. Smith’s, the Rosa Park’s, the Preston Tucker’s and the adherents of Cincinnatus?
Where are the everyday leaders in society, who have the common horse sense to solve these problems?
Why when every thinking man and woman in this nation knows in their core that, universal health care or a $700 billion bail out or continuing participation in far away wars that we will never win are just about the worst things we can do to a nation already drowning in debt, why then do some of us stand around and calculate how we might profit from such a travesty? And why do the rest of us allow it?
With all of the resources in our modern society; family, media, community, business, church, local government and education–we should have at least few really good solutions being discussed and promoted from every tavern, small business, restaurant, board room and dining room table.
I study history, and I have to tell you, it doesn’t look good. Historically, no nation (outside of Nineveh) has every noticed their own folly in real time. We are no exception. Like other nations from the past, we either assume that we are smarter than the last civilization who tried to borrow their way out of debt (or dig their way out a hole) or we are so ignorant that we don’t have any idea what is happening at all. Either way, our existing course adds up to a really bad time.
So I will take my own admonition and offer a solution, one that I believe has been the salvation of this nation many times in the past and is likely to be the hope for us now. I call it A Renaissance in Social Leadership.
Social Leadership: A Lost Leadership Art
It is generally agreed upon by historians that the Dark Ages came to an end by the advent of a period known as the Renaissance.
This was a period most known for ordinary people and aristocrats alike, who seeing a need in their families, towns, cities and nations, determined to improve themselves and provided much needed societal leadership through rigorous study and the revival of many of the arts, sciences and knowledge lost during the previous 400 years.
Many of these self appointed leaders believed that the church and the government, who had been the stewards of the people’s hearts and minds for so long, were not fully meeting the needs of the people and determined to do something about it. Thus began the Renaissance.
Today I believe it is time for such a renewal: a Renaissance of Social Leadership. I see a vast need for a Renaissance in education and creativity and relationships and values. A Renaissance of Social Leadership means a rejuvenation of individuals, families, and communities.
A Renaissance of Social Leadership means a rediscovery of the joy of learning for learning’s sake, the development of personal mission and a focus on unleashing your personal genius.
But what does this mean in everyday living? It means that rather than just waiting around to be told what to do, we as citizens need to take a leadership role in our communities. It means that mothers and fathers need to start acting like the stewards that they really are and can be.
It means that rather than following the media blindly, we should hold them accountable. It means that we should be actively engaged in our local governments, anxiously following and being involved in our immediate governance.
It means that we should all be pursuing a lifetime education for ourselves and taking an active ownership in the elementary and secondary educations of our children. And demanding a lot more from higher Ed.
It means demanding, encouraging, and providing businesses in our communities that are beneficial to society and who give back a lot. And it means living a life style that is in tune with our spiritual selves.
Although the tactics may be complicated, the strategy is simple—we must take our lives back. We must stand up, assume responsibility and demand that government limit itself, that media stick to reporting the news instead of trying to make it.
We must be loyal husbands and wives, dedicated mothers and fathers.
We must participate in education by example, not coercion.
We must purposefully get out of debt and create family financial stability.
This Renaissance will happen. But it may have to smolder for decades unless and until you and I decide to do something about it. No government, no church, no civic organization will or can do it on its own for they are made up of people.
This must be a Renaissance of the people, of marriages, of families, and of communities. The time is now for each of us to decide—more of the same—or do we step into our god-given greatness and lead?