On Self-Love, Self-Responsibility & Providence
A recent speech to university students about what really matters.
I was asked to speak about the ‘new ways of doing business in the new world’, and thought better of a rant about use cases or personal accomplishments. Here is what I delivered to a gathering of about a hundred or so young people.
Quite a lot of fresh, smiling faces gathered here today. Quite a sight to behold.
For those of you who are not smiling, or indifferent, this will not be boring. I assure you.
[A few chuckles from the audience.]
It’s always nice, a privilege really, to able to speak candidly to a younger audience. Although, you may find that what I’m about to share with you probably applies to people of all ages, and all walks of life.
I am not going to teach you anything that you want to know. In fact, I’m not going to teach you anything at all.
I am not a teacher. I am, at times, a guide.
Today, we are going to explore what it means to cultivate the love of self, the responsibility that comes along with it, and this amazing thing called Providence.
I want to start off by telling you something that might make you uncomfortable.
I want to tell you all that I love you, each one of you, unconditionally.
[A mix of awkward laughs, some chuckles. Then a beat. Pin-drop silence. I hold my expression.]
It is true that I do not ‘know you’, as it were.
You might be wondering how can it be that I could or would address you in this way.
How or why I would have the audacity to make such a proclamation — one without judgment or familial context or some kind of admonition.
It is also true that words — such as a beautiful one like love — can carry little meaning without the intentions and actions guiding them.
This is what we will examine today, and perhaps what you will examine every day going forward.
This is about you.
This is about your future. Our future. A future. Any future. And how you participate in the shaping of it.
Let’s go back to the beginning.
Each one of us is borne into the world pure. Divine. Ready. ‘Enlightened’.
We are all Divine beings, full of light and love.
Whether we choose that light and love is another matter. To encounter it sparks a life-long journey.
It is not something that faith alone can provide for us.
You are also forming identities which may or may not reflect that light and love. It is a critical path to undertake, right now, in this moment.
I am not talking about morality or ethics.
If you do not understand by now the difference between right and wrong, then I suppose you will lead a terribly interesting life, if you don’t already. And I mean that quite literally.
[Laughs around the room.]
You see, a great many people in the world, as we know it, are broken.
They seem to hate themselves.
This is our fundamental ‘problem’, as a civilization, as it were.
It is not just the fact that some people are more privileged than others, or that some are more in tune to their suffering, or that some deserve to suffer more than others. Or that some of us are smarter, more fit, more appealing, or more apt to survive. Better at getting what we want, what we need, when we need it.
No. None of that ultimately matters.
What matters is what you stand for, in a world of your own creation.
Not what the outside world prescribes to you, but what the internal world, your world, decides is true, pure, beautiful and abundant.
A world based on love of Self, and a responsibility with Self to the future.
From there, from that internal place, through your heart and your imagination, anything is possible.
I know it seems trite to make such a statement that ‘anything is possible’. But I mean, time travel is possible. We do it when we fly. We get into planes, and we cross time zones. We time travel. How incredible!
[Laughs emerge. I read the audience, take in their expressions. There are a range of curious looks. They are engaged.]
Jokes aside, it is not so easy to think that anything is possible, as you may have already discovered in your young lives.
It is, after all, very much a matter of perspective.
Thinking and experiencing are very different things.
Let’s consider those who are ‘less fortunate’ than us.
It would be convenient for me to tell you that, as the son of a holocaust survivor (my father), and the son of a mother with Native American heritage, that I identify with the plight of the so-called underprivileged and the dispossessed.
I do not.
It would be even more convenient for me to tell you that I empathize with the struggles of a gangster running his neighborhood clique, or a woman who has been cast out of her home, raped, commodified and rendered listless.
How could I?
How could I possibly ‘put myself in their shoes’, when I have little if any relationship to their experiences, their challenges, and their choices?
How could you? How could we?
There are some of you in this room who have, indeed, grown up in these ‘extenuating’ circumstances. You may have been beaten, gone hungry, been set out to concrete pasture. You know something about what it means to suffer amidst harsher conditions. At the hands of visible predators and their seemingly invisible prey.
But before you return to the idea that you ‘know’ this life — and by no means is this to suggest that your experience has no relevance or no deeper meaning here — I’d urge you to consider that it is over.
Done. Finished. Kaput.
I’d urge you to consider that it is no longer a part of who you are becoming, even if it represents who you may have been.
You have already made a choice, through sheer will, that changes every outcome in your life. Good or bad. Right, wrong or indifferent.
You have chosen to live.
That is a powerful choice.
As for those who have chosen to die — and by this I mean the choice to merely survive while they can — you and I can show compassion.
And by compassion, I do not mean placing coins into a cup, or sending in donations, volunteering, or picketing along the street.
That is easy. That is convenient. That is what we are ‘supposed to do’.
And, that is not a hallmark of real power.
No. Compassion can be thought of as an act of concern for others.
Sometimes that involves not giving them what they want. Not enabling them. Holding them accountable for their own choices.
I can tell you, in all honesty, that after visiting prisons, Indian reservations, holocaust museums, mental institutions and financial or political centers, that I have often felt completely overwhelmed, completely useless, hopeless, in the face of illusory power. In these places, I have not been fully aware of how I could be compassionate, and to what end.
These hidden places, these cathedrals of moral or ethical correctness, they show us something about power that we do not read in our textbooks or our newspapers and online magazines: That we have all been irresponsible in our commitments to the future.
Just what is the future, we might ask?
And in the same breath: What is true power?
Is it some external thing that we seek?
Or is it something else? Perhaps something internal?
Or better yet, eternal?
Alas, I know nothing. Yet, I have the opportunity to see anything. As do you.
The relationship to experiences outside of our realms of understanding is critically important. It is the driver, the baseline, of all social, ecological and economic realities. Which are, more or less, one and the same.
Those of you who do not believe me — and you have every right not to — and those of you who do believe me, go take a drive out west. Both groups of you, the believers and the non-believers, will see things that are foreign to you, because you now operate within the world with different eyes.
With real eyes.
Walk amongst the living dead. Observe the people whose spirits have left the material world. These ‘newer versions’ of rampant drug and alcohol abuse. The many forms of ‘domestic violence’. Witness, take in, the empty plots, the dilapidated buildings, the farms on the brink of destruction. See the lifelessness, in all of its advanced forms, for yourself.
Suspend your need to believe, and imagine yourselves returning to such a setting, what Kerouac described as a ‘desolate angel’.
If you have a hard time imaging this, it is because you and I, all of us in this room, are most often not tied to the outcomes, to the consequences, produced by a system that relies on our participation. We do not inhabit those places. We have been afforded the luxury of opportunity, of possibility, where others seemingly have none.
We often know nothing of the outcomes, of consequence.
And perhaps the most shocking thing of all, is that empathy has no place in these places of desolation and despair.
People in these places do not want answers.
They know nothing of your empathy.
They do not want your sympathy.
You do not walk in their shoes. They may take your handouts, but if it is done out of necessity, it is likely they have little regard for you and your ‘feel good’ missions.
Like you, they have a hard time imagining anything possible, outside of having to fight for food, for sustenance, for any semblance of dignity or pride.
And you thought I was going to give you a pep talk, didn’t you?
[Laughs emerge around the room. I wait for the silence to return.]
So, if you can, imagine what is possible in a different world.
In order to do that, you, me, any one of us, cannot externalize our responsibilities to this world. To a world.
What do I mean by this?
It is convenient to blame the outside world for our societal, economic and environmental injustices. It is easy to blame Trump, or the decline of the Democratic party.
It is easy to expect that our activist groups, our foundations and our institutions, in and of themselves, will somehow ‘fix’ all that is wrong around us.
For the most part, they haven’t, they don’t, and they never will.
Perhaps it is even more convenient to align with certain sociocultural groups that enable our sexual, gender, racial and political identities such that we can ‘feel’ the change we think we want, or which we think we ought to seek.
So we can feel righteous. Dignified. Redeemed.
To be clear, this is not an indictment of equal rights, or institutional reform, or philanthropy. Or, the many things you may find intriguing in your sociology and cultural studies courses.
But to be clear, there is no ‘saving’ of the world.
You do not need to be ‘saved’.
‘They’ do not need to be saved.
I am not talking about salvation.
Rather, this is a clarion call of sorts. It is an open invitation to look well beyond reason.
In this ‘new game’ — the same game that has existed for centuries, likely eons— the only thing that will create a more equitable and just world is to be unreasonable. To not defer to common sense.
Rather, we must identify the anomalies overlooked by common sense.
We must develop the capacity to see past reason, to build out our sensemaking skills, without a reliance on what we think we know, so that we can see what’s really possible.
But to do that requires a kind of commitment that only life itself, and the prospects of physical death, can teach us.
Yes, that special word: Commitment.
A word, an idea, we so often love to run away from.
A commitment to test the many assumptions we make, every day, against reality.
A commitment to accept that we know nothing, for the exception of the capacity in which we are actually able to see.
And we all see different things.
[I pause. I raise a pitcher of water from the table behind me and pour some of it into a glass. I raise the glass. I throw the water over my shoulder.]
We might all agree that I just threw water over my shoulder.
[Laughs around the room.]
We most likely do not all agree on why, or, based on your vantage point, what we witnessed. Or, whether I did this in futility, in irreverence, silliness, rage, confusion, insolence, or a some combination thereof.
Each of you can come to your own conclusions.
Some of you see only what you want to see.
But what can you infer from this?
From anything, apart from what seems obvious?
Reality is, 7.6 billion of us on this planet, right now, are living out our own experiences.
So what is it that we really need to agree on?
[Silence. I place glass back on the table. I get on my knees and wipe up the floor with a towel. I stand up, straightening my shirt.]
And with this, we will address the domain of Providence.
Providence, as you probably know from your epistemological and biblical studies, is the protective care of God or of nature as a spiritual power.
It is often referred to as Divine Providence.
You do not need, necessarily, a book or a special prayer to experience it.
You see, nature is a spiritual power. It is Creation. It is the Mother. It is all of life itself.
We can all align on that. It is undeniable. It is all around us.
We are not talking about a moral or ethical obligation to nature.
We are talking about a commitment to stewardship. A way of being custodial to nature’s majesty, its power, its creativity.
Surf a wave, climb a mountain, negotiate a switchback, and you know what this means with awe and intensity. More softly, sit in a garden or your own yard and listen to the trees. Enjoy their fruit.
Dig your toes into the soil. If you open up your spirit, and remain still long enough, you can feel the energy surge right through you.
What is pure, what is good, what is beautiful.
The very essence of what we eat, what we use for transportation and manufacturing, what we rely upon for our warmth, our protections and our indulgences.
How could we destroy or desecrate such beauty?
How could we extract mercilessly from its many temples and places of nurturing?
Plain and simply, we have no ‘right’ to Her offerings.
They are not ‘ours’ to take, to manipulate, to control, to sell to the ‘highest bidder’.
Not without a commitment to their replenishment.
Not without developing a relationship with Her.
That is the process of stewardship. Relationship with Her, to all living things, to which we cherish, protect and regenerate the resources we are gifted.
Make no mistake about it: They are gifts.
It is our behavior that gets in the way of receiving and sharing these gifts.
We often conflate ‘human nature’ with Providence, or more simply, nature. They are not nearly the same things.
The nature of human beings is, and has been, the subject of debate for as long as history has been written for the masses. It is relatively unimportant in terms of our humanity, as custodians of the planet.
Human nature is a belief.
Nature is a way of being.
The former establishes a predetermined way to behave.
The latter is an evolution of being one with all living things.
This evolution is Providence. This is real power.
And it is the process of becoming human, of being ‘here’, that brings together Divine Providence.
Success in terms of merciless extraction is an illusion. Providence is real.
I have ‘succeeded’ a number of times over the course of my life, and each time, in different ways, found myself to be a failure as a human being.
This does not make me a failure in life, per se.
It does, however, make me unreasonably human.
You should also know that all of my friends and family — the people whom I hold dear — are going through major transitions in life. They are grappling with parenthood, with their careers, with past relationships, and with their purpose. They are confronting the notion of regret, and at once, contemplating very existential truths. What they may or may not mean to the world.
You see, regret subsumes us all at times. And, many people are not even afforded the chance to experience regret, as they plod along in their jobs and their personal relationships. As they punch clocks, sign checks, and plan vacations.
In this sense, time is a commodity which forces us to look inward, as what we consider to be real, immediate and important are at odds. We experience this everywhere — in our media, on our Facebook apps, and in our town halls.
And in all of this chaos and confusion, we spend very little time, if at all, revisiting the reason for existence. Examining it, scrutinizing it, contemplating its emergent truths.
Even still, we can think about existence all we want, but when we cannot experience those elements which are unfamiliar, we cannot act differently. We cannot change outcomes. As well, we remove the ties we need to be responsible for those outcomes. Any outcome that may afford us the opportunity to live peacefully, to work gracefully, and to align with a much stronger sense of community.
I am not telling you this to somehow shatter your dreams, but to challenge your illusions.
Our political leadership, our corporate structures, our student loans, our house payments, our car payments, our credit systems, our monetary systems, they do not care about us or our humanity, despite all the attempts to make it appear that they do.
They are, by all intents and purposes, profiting, and have been profiting, at any cost to people and the planet.
There are, of course, exceptions, as there are exceptions to just about everything.
But that is not the point.
The point is this. You are your own hero. You are the creators of your own futures. You are what matters.
Some of you gathered here today are budding technology developers. All of you here today interact with technologies as part of your vocational development.
And so goes a bit about technology, you, and ‘the world’.
Three years from now, most everybody will be building software and hardware platforms of one sort or another, and everyone will have compliable APIs, to include layers of seamless open and closed source protocols. ‘Software as a System’ or ‘Services as Systems’ will conjoin the service layers, competitor-to-competitor hubs, and shared resource pools. Things — processes, currencies, languages — will be radically decentralized.
Websites won’t really be websites as we know them now, and ‘platforms’ will have an array of new meanings and applied contexts. Mobility will take on new forms of cultural behavior. Cities and rural centers will be rewired. We won’t produce or consume or distribute the same way, and advertising will descend into a secondary market, thanks to companies like Amazon. Businesses and governments in general will be going through huge transformations, and will act more like holding companies and federated ecosystems than general assembly lines or porous, flailing bureaucracies.
People will be managing more and more of their own data, and will be faced with the commercial and ethical ramifications on a daily if not hourly basis, as well as requests to spy on one another. All of us are going to be faced with decisions that immediately affect how free we think we are, and how willing we are to be participants in our own virtual and physical futures. Basically, any reality we conjure will have immediate consequences.
Five years from now, the average product manager will be a software developer, the average software developer will be a budding hardware developer, and everyone will have a fundamental understanding of blockchain technologies. There will be dozens of effective alternative currencies and emerging markets blooming with ecological advancements.
We will already have pervasive 3D manufacturing, and payment and barter systems will be totally different. We may even discover, through undeniable evidence, that we’re not actually alone in the Universe, and certainly not alone on this planet.
Seven years from now, the web will not only have been entirely rewritten, but likely reinvented through ‘digilog’ hybrid browsers, several times over. We will have entirely new operating systems, a diversity of economic and socio-technological options, and people themselves will even be genetically different from the way they are now, just as they have been through the generations, but now the biological advancements will accelerate and the splicing will occur in quicker half-lives, even though as vessels (bodies) we will actually last longer. The Soul will always remain challenged, and in question.
We will look at history differently, and will ask new questions of our existence in the Universe, starting with the metaphysical, quantum considerations we are making right now.
I can’t really speak to what life will be like 15 years from now, but right now what matters is that you don’t treat yourself or anyone else like a commodity.
You need to think, act and become a real human asset, a participant in humanity’s well being, so to speak. Because all of it is on the line, and way too many people are acting like sheep, like automatons without any sense of purpose, which is not only sad, but pathetic given what we’ve been gifted, and the inherent powers we possess as thinking, feeling, creative beings.
You can defer to your humanity, in applied ways. For example, you can help provide people with the access they need to vital resources. To enhance their creative literacies. To participate in evolutions of their choosing, their creations.
So I ask again: What do you really stand for?
Lastly, I will share with you a personal truth. About my own existence on this beautiful planet we call Earth.
All my life I have been what many consider to be somewhat of an ‘outcast’.
For starters, I am ‘middle aged’, no longer married, and I have no children. Although, God knows, I’ve tried.
All my life I have been told to check boxes, to play it safe, to play by the rules, to do ‘one thing really well’.
To somehow be extraordinary by ordinary means.
What garners the label of an outcast has far less to do with language or designations, and far more to do with what you refuse to do, or what you are willing to accept.
I decided a long time ago that I would not accept the world, the material world, just as it is.
I would not accept its judgments, its digressions, its control mechanisms.
I would not accept its cruelty or its iniquities.
I would not accept its many formalities or reductions.
And while I have fallen for its seductions, and made many, many mistakes in my personal and professional relationships, I have not, do not, and will not give up or give in.
If I am to be perfectly honest, I do not have that kind of choice. I am on my path.
The path, so to speak.
When you choose yours — or shall I say, when you create yours — all pretense will drop away.
People will come in and out of your life.
Some of your friends, perhaps many of them, will disappear.
You might find yourself constantly at odds with your own family.
You might find that you are at odds with yourself.
Money will come and go.
Love will trip you up.
Your faith in yourself will be questioned.
At times you will feel confounded, terrified, desperate and alone.
Alas, all of it — the experiences, the emotions, the unanswered questions — will help make you stronger.
It will teach you humility. And confidence. And a profound respect for life itself.
As you gather strength, true power, you will notice that people look at you differently.
Some will avoid you.
Some will ridicule you.
Many will envy you.
They will circle around, like hawks or ravens, and study you.
They will take what they can.
They will want your ideas, but not your heart.
Or, they may try to rip your heart away from you.
They will fear you, as much as they may admire you.
Even more, they will fear any kind of commitment to you and what you represent — the odd, the unsavory, the incalculable.
They will ask you to withdraw your sword. Your wand. Your pen. Your brush. Your instrument. Or whatever it is that is an extension of your truest self.
They will try to break you down.
They will try to break you.
And in these very moments, you will go inward.
You will want to shut off from the outside world. To leave ‘this place’.
Yet, in searching deeply into your Soul, you will realize ‘they’ are mere reflections of you.
That there is no ‘them’ or ‘us’.
That ‘I’ am a part of the ‘we’.
That your identity is your evolution, no matter what major you declare, or what title you place on your business card.
The work we do, when we are on the Path, is far from easy.
We do not learn when we are comfortable. We do not step into our true power when things are convenient.
The world is full of ideas.
Very few have the courage to act on them.
Embrace your maladjustment. Your refusal to ‘be like everyone else’.
As for me, I have been fortunate enough to have traveled the world, to have done many things, to have given speeches like this one, some to audiences in the thousands.
They have been fleeting moments, as these sort of things go, a mix of disbelief and wonder as to how and why I was chosen to be the orator or progenitor of some message, about some topic, on some grand platform.
Anyone can train to deliver a speech.
Not anyone can speak about their truths.
It was not until I drove out west, emerged from my fancy car, and walked among the people in my own backyard, in lands of emptiness, that I discovered who I really am.
My purpose for being on this Earth.
You, my young friends, are Divine expressions of love, of responsibility, of providence.
And with that, I say be unreasonably human.
Be unreasonably human.
Exercise your mind and your heart. Listen to your spirit. Your Truest Self. Let it guide you.
Remember that you are your own hero.
And have lots of fun while you do.
Enjoy your things, your gifts. Be grateful for them. Share what you can.
And please, do not abdicate your responsibility to the future. Your future.
That is what the world, a world, needs from you. From all of us.
Thank you for listening, and considering the possibilities.
Blessings to you all.”
Everything is not as it seems in America. Algren pointed out the contradictions. (A documentary I co-produced with my sister and my brother about one of the great beat writers of the 20th century.)
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