Reply To: Think and Grow Rich thoughts and questions and introspection

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Steven Barnes

“Think And Grow Rich” is an amazing look into the minds of people who have lifted themselves up and become “successful” in the sense of “the progressive realization of a worthy goal.” There is an enormous gap between the thought patterns of such people, and the thought patterns of identical people in identical situations who get lesser results.

And it is even more true that if life “breaks” people–and it often does, they develop thought patterns that justify that. If you don’t, it is possible to “break” with self-loathing. This is why you MUST start by loving yourself. Your comments range over a wide number of perfectly good points, but I’ll just take the first one: “But my god, the degree he went to make his child “normal” offended me.”
So. Let’s “unpack” this. I would guess that this reaction relates to the movement to ask society to change or accept the “differently abled”. Blind, deaf, autistic, whatever–let us not say that there is something wrong with them. Let us say that WE do not have the right to place our judgements upon them.

This is a compassionate approach, designed to shift the “tribe” of man to care more about individuals and understand that no standards we place upon them are ultimately valid. But what was the context of his drive to “help” his son? A lifetime of seeing that people who are “deaf” deal with poverty, want, and diminished likelihood of meaningful success. THAT IS WHAT HE WOULD HAVE SEEN AT THAT TIME. What does a father do? Try to change all of society so that they will support and nurture his son? Become a political activist for the rights of the hearing impaired? That is an approach, certainly.

He chose another path, right or not. He chose to think that survival is a value in and of itself. And that the entire thrust of the philosophy he spent his life studying is that THE INDIVIDUAL IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE RESULTS HE GETS. Is that cruel? So is poverty. The fear of a parent, knowing they cannot always be there to help a child, imagining that child in want and misery, is immense.

I have been criticized for saying women should study self-defense. “Don’t tell women to defend themselves. Teach men not to attack them.” Well, that’s an approach. But if I’m sending my daughter off to college in a strange town, precisely how does that work? Do I spend years with every boy going to that school to be certain he respects and protects women? Impossible. Do I spend twenty hours with my daughter teaching her environmental awareness, when and how to attract attention, how to read body language, how to project confidence, how to “flip the switch” in her head and go berserk on someone? Personally, I say you do BOTH. So that might be what Hill should optimally have done, especially from a “Liberal” or “Progressive” position.

Can you see how this relates to Social Justice? IF you are dealing with, say, a poor black kid from the inner city, you may have help him understand that, yes, society is unjust, yes, he and his people got screwed over for centuries, yes, he is surrounded by pain and lack. And that voting, and forming alliances, and marching and protesting will help change society. But you ALSO have to show him what individuals born into his circumstances have done to lift themselves up. As individuals. Even without help. Even if society is against him. Because if he doesn’t, you are saying: unless society changes, you can do nothing. You are helpless. And that isn’t true. Social circumstances make it LESS LIKELY ON AVERAGE to achieve. But individuals CAN AND DO thrive in the worst circumstances. They are not “normal”–they are either extraordinary, or have been fortunate enough to meet extraordinary teachers and mentors or have extraordinary family who guide them even though the circumstances are dreadful.

It is true that our circumstances guide our average results. It is also true that people, through extraordinary focus, can raise themselves up. Both of these things are true: we must become “awake, aware, adult human beings” or our children starve, and our “dream children” dwindle.

So what did Hill do? Everything in his power to give his son the ability to compete on equal terms in a dog-eat-dog world. He saw a cold, cruel landscape that might eat his child alive, and did everything in his power to give that boy the capacity to stand up and kick ass. That is a very “Yang” approach. The “Yin” approach is to implore society to be more inclusive and kind and supportive.

BOTH the “Yin” and the “Yang” must be combined to create “The Tao”, the whole picture. You have to rise beyond the political or philosophical dualities. It is true that I want society to be kind and fair. It is also true that if my children are strong and smart and tough enough…they can create a life of meaning and DEMAND that society treat them with respect.

The book “Think And Grow Rich” is 100% coming from the position that we can determine our fates, to a degree most human beings never understand. It is frightening if, deep inside, you are afraid of taking full Response-Ability for your life.

And you know? Almost no one does. It is a heavy burden. But if you don’t…all of your dreams can die. Ultimately, we have to make the choice: will we risk taking too much responsibility, and risk guilt, blame, and shame? Or will we believe we have less power than we do, and let our lives slip away?

We have to make a choice. I’m hoping you’ll join me on this side of the line: life can be hard. So we must be strong.

But, of course, we must also be compassionate and loving. If you can handle that duality, it opens the door to a different world.


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