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Iris Martin Headshot

The United States Can Learn a Trick or Two From Shaun White

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The continuing media circus following the enthralling Winter Olympic performance and second Gold medal win by snowboarder Shaun White has been fueled by more than a bevy of inspired journalists indulging in a little national gloating while seeking a deeper look at the self-possessed and clear-eyed sports icon.

White's recent round of interviews and appearances has provided a portrayal of an old soul in a highly tuned young body--and potentially a global leader in the making, if still in a somewhat unassuming embryonic state. He has not only transcended the myth of the hippie-haired snowboarder on his quest to stick the perfect run, he has laid down a style of being in the world that's awesome for our times.

As a veteran expert in transformational psychology, it is my suspicion that the heat on White is more about who he is and what he believes than on what he accomplished on the half pipe in Vancouver.

And, given our nation's gnarly state of affairs, the collective's focus on Shaun, if ever so fleeting (given our attention deficit disorder), is due to his refreshing message, which may have more relevance than his weather-dependent medium.

Consider the following well-received Shaunisms comprising White's world view:

1. Flying takes commitment. When asked how he approaches his tricks, White insists it's based on his commitment to land the run. If only our nation could only commit to transforming itself, then we too might get an Olympic-sized score at global leadership.

2. The greatest runs shouldn't be over thought. White contends that his best boarding comes from feeling his way through the trick while focusing on the next one. Why can't we as a nation stop over-analyzing our differences and just get in the groove of feeling our spiritual potential?

3. Breaking out takes careful contemplation. White says his Double Mc Twist 1260 was two years in the making, as he visualized his moves and architected his success before laying them down on the pipe. The proponents of the Middle East process should take note here: since the old arguments and solutions haven't worked, why keep grandly articulating them instead off holing up in a small Colorado town to dial up an arsenal of new tricks?

4. Winning doesn't happen in a vacuum. White insists it's the hugs and high fives of his friends and family that keep him pushing through his very real fears of injury and loss of stature. The White House take note: before we engulf other nations, it might be a good idea to collect our allies and have a big group hug. For that matter, maybe snowboarding with Shaun could help Obama get his huge air back.

5. Leadership is a wonderful, horrible feeling, a great pressure looming. But White contends no matter how afraid or stressed he is, he transmutes the feeling but dropping in and sticking his run. Global leadership requires the ability to manage fear, not deny it. Rather than regress into sound bite rhetoric, we should indulge in a little more tail grabbing in the air than on the floor of the Capitol.

These Shaunisms can be summed up in one word: positive transference; the essential dynamic required for transforming an imploding and dysfunctional nation. So maybe America can get stoked and grab enough amplitude to put down its run for a return to global leadership. Or not.

While historians may disagree on the precise timing of events leading to the collapse of the Roman Empire, most characterize it as a complex transformation gone wrong prompted by a series of invaders, a failed economy, an overtaxed and under-capitalized military, a failed agriculture, widespread disease and a loss of civic virtues.

Or as Edward Gibbon succinctly put it, "the decline of Rome was the natural and inevitable effect of immoderate greatness in which prosperity ripened into decay...and when the artificial supports were removed, the stupendous fabric yielded to the pressure of its own weight."

Historian J.B. Bury went even further to comment that the collapse of the Roman Empire was caused by "a series of misfortunes which proved catastrophic in combination, brought on by contingent events, each endurable but together and in conjunction, ultimately fatally destructive." And Toynbee and Burke conclude that the "sealed fate of the Roman Empire was based upon "looting existing resources without producing anything new."

Sound familiar? Only real difference I see to date, that America's invaders, with the exception of 9/11, have been internal, generated by a cancer metastasizing our national physique and a psychosis overtaking our collective psyche. Case in point:

Invader 1: Our National Addiction to Fraud:

If the predatory conspiracy of banks, Wall Street and the Fed's continuing actions to defraud innocent homeowners, creating a foreclosed nation of middle class homelessness, isn't enough to sway you, consider our popular culture's obsession with twisting what is not into what is. What we eat, what we do, what we drive and what we view are not what it seems. Our investment in illusion in all facets of life is conditioning a fatal state of delusion. Just watch "Food, Inc." and you'll get the idea.

Invader 2: Our Acceptance of Greed:

It is uncanny that in the midst of an economy holding on by a thread, despite the Obama Administration's continuing attempts to bolster it, Wall Street bonuses are up 17 percent over last year. Chase posted a 4.8 billion dollar profit while sending millions of innocent homeowners into the streets. Maybe Marie Antoinette was right: "Let them eat cake." Because the powers haven't any desire to eat crow.

Invader 3: A Culture of Incompetence:

Recent Congressional and Senate hearings focusing on the ineptitude of Fortune 500 CEOs of automakers and financial institutions that categorically denied the writing on the wall, is a laughable case of the pot calling the kettle black. Sexual scandals of various persuasions, out of wedlock protegy, refusals to put constituent's needs above the importance of re-elections and a two foot aisle -- could politics sink any lower? In my five years advising President Clinton on transformational tools and tactics, we at the White House truly believed we were engaged in a noble cause. But given the current Administration's comedic antics on the world stage (a meeting with Dali Lama in the Roosevelt Room?), my nostalgia for the White House Mess' crab cakes and French fries is dwindling fast.

Invader 4: Self-Serving Denial Masquerading as Naiveté:

If pigs could talk, than I guess the notion that the global financial markets could regulate themselves would be plausible. Was anyone running the show here? I know Alan Greenspan to be a brilliant economist truly advocating home ownership for all who could afford it and a connoisseur of aged brandy, but even Shaun would agree that ripping a gnarly pipe could lead to a fatal brain injury. I work in Hollywood and it is well accepted that everyone believes their own hype, but credit default swaps being leveraged fifty times their value? Was the SEC on acid?

Invader 5: An Epidemic of Heartlessness:

While the financial service industry that put us in this depression is thriving, our government has no real problem robbing an entire generation of baby boomers out of a well-deserved retirement due to their lack of life savings, loss of jobs and even the roofs over their heads. Our empathy for other nation's natural disasters is far less impressive than our ignorance and avoidance of solving our own disastrous culture and economy. A nation of middle class poverty, schools with metal detectors, obese kids whacked out on designer drugs and happy meals -- is a decline like Rome's not around the corner?

I rest my case.

Each of these national invaders could be captured, tamed and transmuted by applying a lesson from the ex-Flying Tomato's handbook. (Sorry, Shaun, but look, who would want to be likened to a garden vegetable based upon one's well groomed voluminous red hair?)

So where do we begin?

First, by recognizing that the 20-60-20 rule of transformation is still in effect, and by applying leadership appropriately. All evolving systems are governed by this rule of sub faction, first theorized by psychology's rock star, Warren Bennis in the fifties, and later termed by me with his blessing as the "Gandhi effect."

The top twenty percent are growth junkies, driven by innovation, exhilaration and vision (Welcome, Shaun White). One percent of this group makes up the "powers that be" sometimes known as "Renaissance Weekend." The best personal example I can think of this is my former president and dear friend, Bill Clinton, who was put on this earth to transform it and had a mother who could facilitate him.

But there are so many others. My wise friend Goldie Hawn transformed blond bubble-headed comedy; Oprah has transformed the medium of television; Hillary has transformed the role of women; SNL has transformed the respect we give political candidates, and now Shaun has transformed the act of snowboarding from a fun winter sport into a way of life.

What leaders in this group have most in common is the Gandhi effect, in which the negative sub faction of the system ultimately attempts to destroy them for having the audacity to push reality into a new form (just think of the framers of the Monica attack or the ridiculous attention given to Jessica Simpson's mom jeans). Our popular culture's obsession with celebrity is based on one gigantic Gandhi effect of idealizing icons so that they can promptly be vilified.

But I caution these saboteurs to the indisputable fact: Shaun White is already one step ahead of you.

While the swirling frenzy converging on his personal space, proffering skate boards, snowboards, limbs and appendages for his signature may be a trifle disconcerting to him, as his most immediate goal may be to decompress, get a good night sleep then tend to his many stakeholders, he is on point, on message and cleverly embodying his brand.

He doesn't drink much beyond sharing the occasional celebratory glass of champagne with his parents, could care less about being drug tested, and so far his involvement with Playboy bunnies has been limited to teaching them to snowboard. What twenty-three year old do you know spends his downtime at the Olympics learning the Star Spangled banner on his electric guitar?

That leaves us to consider the rest of the system comprised of 60 percent of minions. Call them middle children; they are the ones who will camp out in the rain to get movie or concert tickets; signal oncoming drivers that a cop is around the bend; distort themselves to look like their pop culture icons and consume reality TV.

It is this group that Shaun White must harness.

This result is accomplished by the simple psychological strategy of seduction, and no, I am not referring Shaun's television bantering, which led to the Beatle-like manic reaction of one cougar CNN anchor. White's ability to seduce appears to be based on common sense and healthy living.

So long live Shaun White, both in the air and grounded in his empire of video games, merchandise and endorsements. If Shaun White can fly through huge air, why can't our national consciousness take flight? And if Red Bull can see the wisdom in financing his own secluded half pipe so he can master his innovative new tricks, why can't the Obama Administration adopt the Ohio Foreclosure Readiness Law that prohibits fraudulent foreclosures?

New Age theorist Michael Sharp believes that we are in the midst of an energetic sea change and cosmic revolution, one which will shake the minions and saboteurs to their unenlightened knees. He postulates that this transformation will be driven by a new generation of "crystal children" incarnated for the sole purpose of bringing light energy for a new world order. He terms this process "ascension."

If Shaun White's Double Mc Twist 1260 on a twenty-two foot icy half pipe isn't a thrust toward ascension, then what is? The world was watching and he has captured its imagination. So maybe this is a sign that ascension may win out over a repeat of Rome.

Let's hope so, or the future will get really gnarly.

Iris Martin is a former psychotherapist and author. Her third book "MORTGAGE WARS" is available in bookstores and at as an e book. She is currently producing her first independent film based on her original screenplay. She can be reached at