I watched faithfully America: The Story of Us that recently aired on The History Channel. Two things jumped out at me.
First, it was a very well done program like most History Channel productions, but the Bank of America commercials sadly were produced to be too much like the program itself.
Second was a comment about George Washington made by Mack Machowitz, a former Navy Seal:
“He committed to this idea of standing on your own. America is a dream and the only way to go get this dream is to show up and bring your very best to that moment and not stop until you bring that very dream into existence.”
Immediately a line from Gladiator jumped into my mind:
“Marcus Aurelius had a dream that was Rome. This is not it. THIS IS NOT IT!”
The most compelling part of the series was watching the ebb and flow between the creativity to solve problems and then problems caused when the creativity was unleashed in the name of “progress.”
I believe in capitalism especially the idea that is the foundation of it as articulated by P. J. O’Rourke in his book about Adam Smith:
“The property which every man has is his own labour, as it is the original foundation of all other property, it is the most sacred and inviolable.” Property rights are not the invention of the rich to keep the poor people off their property. Property rights are the deed we have to ownership of ourselves.”
In other words, poor people have the same property rights everyone else does.
This idea, though, has been turned on its head. It has come to mean to own things, to own stuff. Along with that is the social status that is also a part of Adam Smith’s capitalism.
Watch the news, check the internet, listen to what people talk about everyday. I can only repeat, “This is not it!”
Check out David McCullough’s Jefferson Lecture When in the Course of Human Events and see what he believes the dream was, what John Adams said about his decision to go to law school:
“It will be hard work…but I shall have the liberty to think for myself.”
I would change this a bit based on my research:
“I shall have the liberty to think and feel for myself.”
In today’s environment this is hard to do. We are surrounded and overwhelmed by marketing and sales pitches, by politics, by disasters of potentially epic proportions (financial, health care, and the oil spill).
I get asked all the time about motivation. How do I motivate myself to do something that is good for me? The real question we should be asking ourselves is why in the world is it so hard to do the what is best for us?
My answer to everyone I talk to is to remember the Dream George Washington seems to have had. Why do I trust Washington on this? Because he walked away from political power. When he left the presidency, King George asked what Washington would do then. He was told Washington would return to his farm.
“If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world,” King George reportedly said.
Want to be motivated, want that inner drive? Then walk away from the illusion of power and control, of a world that demands your energy to make money for people who gamble it instead of invest it, from energy that has no idea what work is worth doing. Walk towards the discovery of who you are, who you can be. Walk away from “playing the game” that really means covering your ass, that turns wonder into worry, and walk towards play and the power to do what matters. Let go of the external pressure of potential and discover the promise inside you, that is you. Not a comparison of who you can be relative to others, but as Adams said to have the liberty to think for yourself. Or as was said about Washington, to show up and stand on your own.
When we do that, when we all know how to stand on our own together, when we have ownership of ourselves individually and as a people, then, and only then, can we understand what Archimedes meant:
“When we have a place to stand on, we can raise the world.”
That is what Washington did. That is the American Dream.