The last three years have been a gut-wrenching test of our personal and collective character as a people and nation. Although we failed in many tests of our character, we are still here. The hard truth is only we, acting on inspiration with determination, can make the next three years better than the last. As the maxim suggests: “the only way out is through.” It is time to get through. How we do that begins with visualizing then actualizing change based in what I call moments, or glimpses, or glimmers of inspiration.
We still have an opportunity to set a new course; to learn from our failures and to both restore and revitalize the values that undergird our character. 2023 can be the year we turn the corner—together—to recommit to the truth, to each other, to our planet, and to assert a new spirit of creativity and innovation that defines a new American identity. One that restores the American Dream and reestablishes America as an exemplar of human dignity and grace across the world. What I call the enlightened version of American exceptionalism.
Over the holidays, I spent a great deal of time in fairly intense contemplation and reflection. Cancer will do that to you. Thankfully, my cancer is just below stage 4 at stage 3C. Operable, albeit complicated, and my chance of survival is quite good. The balance of the consequences are just a matter of the mind and body cooperating in creative adaptation, and doing the work to fully rehabilitate. Fortunately, I have had many experiences with difficult physical rehabilitations, so I know I can do that—and win. And, I have the shoulders of friends and family to stand on.
In the face of these uncertainties, I found sanity and solace in imagining moments/glimpses/glimmers of comfort when my world was full of darkness and peril. There have been days when this practice is the only way I made it to the next day. My hope is that we might collectively engage in a similar practice to right the ship of America with our own individual and collective practice of what amounts to visualizing then actualizing the few things we need to do to save our future. We need to learn how to hug hope.
Over the past year, I have (fortuitously as it turns out) developed the skill of dropping into a meditative state where simple breathing settles me into a state of awareness free of my meddling mind. That’s when summoning moments of comfort set my troubled psyche at ease. Moments of comfort like inhaling the aroma of a fresh, French press, dark roast coffee as the sun breaks the horizon. The wafting vanilla-almond scented candle next to a crackling fire of pinion and cedar as nightfall envelops my home. A shimmering rainbow connecting the valley with the mountains in the ritual of a soft summer rain. A perfect piece of music that inspires a joyful sense of awe and inspiration. The brush strokes of an artist that stop you cold leaving you floating between reality and imagination. The prattle of chatter up and down the bar—both inane and profoundly poetic—while sipping a Guinness in Ireland. A poem that leaves room for you to make it your own. And, of course, reading, thinking, writing, reflecting, re-writing, then writing some more; and, finally, sharing as I do here.
As it is with all of us, our personal lives mirror the disposition of the places in which we live. Place has an enormous impact on our lives; more than we are willing to admit. Our personal agency certainly matters as a powerful agent of change, but the context of community allows and disallows many of our preferences. That said, there are a just a few things that all Americans could focus on that transcend the peculiarities of place. Across America today, there are three imperatives as we collectively face the future: a recommitment to truth and the rule of law, the reunification of ourselves by and between each other and nature, and the courage to foster, embrace, and support the application of creative intelligence to address our greatest challenges. In my view, these are the three most pressing objectives that, if realized, will affect many primary, secondary, and tertiary issues. They will deliver us to a future we can be proud to leave to our children and grandchildren.
One need look no further than Donald Trump if you want to find evidence of what one person can do for better, or in his case, for ill. He nearly single-handedly destroyed our commitment to the truth and the rule of law, as well as standards defined by norms. The soon-to-be sworn-in congressman George Santos of New York is the exclamation point of this Trump effect. He is Trump’s bizarre avatar of deceit. A life and identity completely crafted from falsehood. What a mess that man is. A Shakespearean tragedy not even William could have conjured.
But let’s be clear and honest with ourselves as we move forward: every one of us shares culpability in the abdication of our commitment to truth and the rules and norms that make our society a civilized society. Even in our silence we are culpable. We let this happen. It is up to all of us to fix it. No more looking the other way or engaging in performative outrage on social media. None of that excuses us. None of that works. No matter how uncomfortable or even cruel the truth may be, we must face it with courage and resolve. And, yes, consequences for Trump and others are important to levy. Not to affect their future behaviors; I highly doubt people like Trump are capable of rehabilitation. Rather, to restore the rule of law to its rightful perch on the throne of integrity. Visualize truth as our path to restoring the soul of America.
Next, we need to set aside our petty grievances and acknowledge our common challenges and objectives. Separately, we are all trying to do the same thing: make our lives work in the context of our particular fears and ambitions. Collectively, we will all find our success more easily and more quickly if we honor our differences while embracing that which we share. Yes, we look different, speak with different accents, pray to different gods, and find love in different ways. But we are all Americans. In fact, that is what America is and always has been. That is what really makes America great—what made America the greatest nation-state in the modern world. We must close the gap between us. It is dangerous and un-American to engage further in the fear mongering and divisiveness that has become so popular on both ends of our political spectrum. In the last few years, we have become our own worst enemies. How stupid we were. This must stop, immediately. E Pluribus Unum—out of many, one—must, once again, become an actualized vision.
In a new spirit of unity, we must also reimagine ourselves as the animals that we are. To be sure, human, and indeed predominant in this world. But also, highly interdependent by and between all the other species of plants and animals with whom we share the planet. The ecosystem we inhabit is collapsing, and it is because of us. Spare me your fantasies of alternative explanations to the reality of climate change. If you promote these, you are—plainly and frankly—dangerously full of shit. We may be the last victims, but if we remain on our current path of seeing ourselves as separate from and protected from the eventualities of the consumption of fossil fuels, we are no longer homo sapiens, we are homo stupidus. We deserve to perish. My hope is that if we learn to regard ourselves as a part of nature, rather than separate from it, we have a chance—admittedly today a dwindling chance—but nonetheless a chance to save ourselves. Once again, from ourselves. This visualization is simple: we are one with nature.
Beyond truth and unity, we must also reinvigorate the ethos of the America that made it the greatest nation-state in the modern era. We must embrace the geniuses, artists, and crazy entrepreneurs that turned daring enterprise into unimaginable innovation. The impossible is always possible. Often, it just requires looking at issues through a different lens. At others, it requires the imagination to combine seemingly disparate elements into something altogether new. As entrepreneurs know, in every threat lies an opportunity. Between threats and opportunities are also an array of possibilities. Yes, we have faced and continue to face daunting challenges. But we must meet them with a steady commitment to opportunism. And do so with a dash of arrogant optimism. Visualize ingenuity.
Truth, unity, and ingenuity. Cultivate them through moments, glimpses, and glimmers of reinforcing visualization. There is another maxim that applies here quite perfectly: you will travel in the direction your eyes are looking. Vision is a powerful navigation system. Once we set our eyes on a new future, our minds, hearts, and bodies will follow. Before we know it, we will be in a much better place.
One more thought before I return to my moments of comfort. The holidays are always a time of expressing gratitude. This is a good thing. A very good thing. I suggest, however, that we flip this script. In addition to expressing how grateful we are, might we also consider why we deserve gratitude. Have we earned gratitude from others? What have we done to earn it? Should our friends and family be grateful for us? Should the communities in which we live be grateful we are there? How about wildlife, the land, air and waters? If you are looking for a resolution for the new year, maybe this one is relevant: to earn the gratitude of others.
Happy New Year.