Yesterday I gave the opening keynote for SFL’s Future of Freedom Conference at New York University.
Here are some notes from that talk (Thanks to my friend and colleague Chuck Grimmett for capturing these quotes):
“You have the power to change your life every day outside of politics.”
That’s right. Run in the opposite direction of anyone who tells you that you can only change things at the voting booth or through political activism. There are little things you can do on a daily basis to cultivate a sense of inner freedom and inspire others to be more open to the ideas of liberty.
“We are really good at applying skepticism toward positivity. We need to apply that same skepticism toward negativity instead of painting negative statements as ‘keeping it real’.”
Forget positive thinking. You don’t need to be a pollyanna. You just need to resist the tendency to be a selective skeptic. If you’re going to pride yourself on being logical and rational, then you have no business accepting messages of doom and gloom without evidence and careful scrutiny. As I mention in my book Freedom Without Permission,
“Keeping it real” isn’t just a matter of facing up to harsh facts. It also includes opening up to the plethora of possibilities that offer us ways of impacting the world in spite of adversity. “If you focus on the world’s deficiencies and stop there, then you’ll probably feel horrible and paralyzed. But why stop there? It’s intellectually dishonest to focus on what’s wrong with the world without acknowledging our rich history of overcoming incredible odds.
“You are more important to the fate of this world than Clinton or Trump. Politicians don’t determine your future. They aren’t your source of power. You need to take yourself seriously as a creative force.”
We’re constantly bombarded with messages that reinforce the notion that we’re a bunch of powerless pawns whose lives are subject to whatever the next president does, but U.S. Presidents have far less power in practice than what is often represented in the fears of the general population. We grossly overestimate a single individual’s capacity to destroy when it comes to the presidency.
Moreover, we can’t even get to that point until after we’ve repeatedly projected our individual power onto politicians. Politicians are powerful for the same reasons that celebrities are famous: we insist on treating them as if they’re special and we keep putting them on a pedestal in spite of what the evidence says.
To put it another way, politicians are able to easily destroy things precisely because we buy into a myth that says they can solve our problems and then we give them the power to do so. And no matter how much they keep letting us down, we just keep on believing. When we stop looking to politicians for salvation and when we start respecting and developing our own potential, we’d be surprised by how much freedom we can create. We need to stop looking to a man or woman to make America great again. We need to look within and make ourselves great again.
As I wrote in Either Way, They Win,
Politicians are like celebrities getting ready to release a new album or film: When you hate them, they win. When you love them, they win. When you fear them, they win. When you praise them, they win. When you spread lies about them, they win. When you tell the truth about them, they win. As long as you believe they are the primary ones worth talking about, they win.
“Who wins when you believe that we are screwed when a certain person gets elected? If that answer is anyone other than you, double check that belief.”
As I wrote in The Most Dangerous/Powerful Force,
If you believe stories of powerlessness and self-pity, your experience will follow. If you believe stories of possibility and resilience, your experience will follow. Think twice about the stories others sell you.
We often treat motivational messages as if they’re silly, irrational, and only to be accepted by the gullible. But then we easily swallow messages that tell us how screwed we are. Who wins when you accept ideas like this?
As I wrote in The Greatest Conspiracy,
What scares me isn’t that my neighbor might vote for the “wrong” person. What scares me is that my neighbor probably defines “power” in a way that makes his existence relevant only when he’s voting for someone other than himself.
The greatest conspiracy isn’t some hidden agenda to get a certain crooked person into office. The greatest conspiracy is to have a world where people genuinely scoff at the idea that they have the permission and power to be the predominant creative forces in their own lives.
The greatest conspiracy isn’t that we’re being secretly screwed by a shadow government. The greatest conspiracy is that we’ve been duped into believing that freedom is only possible through a process of systemic begging and wishing. Even worse, that we’ve been brainwashed into believing that our efforts to be free are a waste of time no matter what we do.
The next time you find yourself saying “we can’t win.” Ask yourself who wins when you allow yourself to believe that losing is inevitable?
The next time you find yourself laughing at someone who dares to remind you of your own power, ask yourself who’s laughing at you as you laugh at the idea of your own power?
“Politicians are the reactors. We are the creators. We bring the possibilities into the world and they react to it when it is politically profitable to do so.”
Every revolution is the product of seemingly ordinary individuals choosing to question reality or challenge the status quo. As Jeff Deist often points out, politics is a lagging indicator of social change. Change doesn’t begin with the people we vote for. It begins with the people who are doing the voting. When we confuse the cause with the effect, we unwittingly enslave ourselves. Set yourself free by embracing yourself as the primary creative force in your life. Kick politicians off the pedestal and own your power.
“November 8 will come and go. When you wake up on November 9, will you tell yourself that you have to wait four more years to make an impact?”
I don’t know who’s going to win on November 8th, but here are two things I can easily predict: 1) At some point in your lifetime, you’re going to get at least one president who scares the hell out of you. 2) That fact, however frightening it may seem, does not have the power to stop you from being inwardly free and outwardly creative.
Don’t waste your time around people who have nothing to offer to a conversation other than arguments about what’s impossible. Spend time around people who have a stake in the game, people who are willing to put their motor where their mouth is by getting up, going out, and getting things done, whether it’s easy or not.
The future will neither belong to those who coerce, nor to those who merely criticize. The future will belong to those who create, to those who sow the seeds of productivity, positivity, and possibility, in season and out of season.
This is why I will never believe that we are powerless pawns. I have too much respect for myself, for you, for critical thinking, for freedom, and for reality itself.
“No one is smart enough to make a free world. But everyone is smart enough to pursue what makes them fulfilled. And when we all do that and opt out of the collectivist mindset, that is how the world becomes a freer place.”
Go read a copy of Leonard Reed’s “I, Pencil” and familiarize yourself with the idea of spontaneous order. Once you develop an appreciation for the role of self-interest and the invisible hand, you’ll be far more disinclined to look for social change through central planning. Check out Visions of History: Ways of Seeing the Past, learn to see past the Myth of the Great Man, and you’ll realize that our world isn’t going to change because of the magical operations of a magical man. Our world will change when people wake up to an astounding vision of who they might become. As Howard Thurman said,
Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask: what makes me come alive?” then go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
Don’t limit your options in life to voting for the lesser of two evils. We’re not going to reach our goals simply by thinking in terms of things that are the least destructive, the least evil, and the least stupid. It’s time to start thinking in terms of what is best, what is best within ourselves. And it’s time to start cultivating that and fighting for that.