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Jim Selman

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Is Your Problem Economic or Spiritual?

Posted: 08/25/10 02:50 PM ET

My teacher and friend Dr. Fernando Flores was a candidate for the Presidency of Chile. In one of his speeches, he declared, "We don't have an economic problem so much as we have a spiritual one... we've forgotten who we are... we lack a vision and purpose for our nation." He dropped out of the presidential race, but this phrase has stayed with me. I think it is true of most nations, including our own.

There is a maxim that states, "A vision without action is just a dream. Action without a vision is a nightmare." A vision provides a context, a ground of being for our lives. A vision is not a goal: it is the organizing principle for whatever goals we may have. A vision is a place to stand--the future as possibility--a place to "come from" in all that we undertake.

Most of us do not distinguish between vision and goals. We think of vision as merely a "big goal" out there in the distant future someplace. Yet, we've also all experienced being connected to a vision at various times in our lives. These are times when we experience a breakthrough or transformation in our relationship to the future--when the future is an opening for unprecedented action. These are the times when we are inspired by what is possible and who we are in the game of life.

There are three questions I am asking my clients and students these days. They are:

1) Who are you?
2) What do you want to accomplish?, and
3) What is missing for you to accomplish it?

I am learning that most of our other questions will take care of themselves if we seriously engage these 3 questions.

We are facing difficult circumstances today. There is a probability that our circumstances could become more difficult in coming years. So in the face of these circumstances, who are we? Are we, for example, spectators having opinions about what's going on but without any sense of responsibility for what we are observing? Or are we committed participants engaged in creating solutions to our pressing issues? Are we fearful children waiting or hoping for the "grownups" to help us? Or are we the grownups who must clean up the messes that others made--whether we had anything to do with them or not? Are we sheep who are being manipulated by partisan propaganda and bias media pundits? Or are we leaders and followers working together to empower each other and accomplish a vision worthy of who we are as human beings?

Eckhart Tolle in his book A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose suggests that when we identify with something that is not our "authentic self" that we become trapped in a kind of egocentric or self-referential relationship to everything else. For example, when we think we "are" our possessions, then any threats to what we possess lead to defensiveness and aggression. When we have possessions but they are not who we are, we may not like it if we lose them--but we get on with life and do not suffer.

Similarly, if we think our nation is the economy, then any economic crisis shakes the very foundations of who we think we are, undermines our confidence, creates conflict and distrust in our relationships, and drives us into a downward spiral of resentment and blame. When we most need to be pulling together, our fears and lack of ownership of the whole (who we are) drive us further and further apart. We need look no further than the gridlock and partisan politics in Washington and most state and municipal governments to appreciate that people have become more attached to their points of view than to the possibility of being UNITED in some context or another. It almost doesn't matter what context we choose -- prosperity, freedom, happiness, health -- as long as we become united in something.

At the rate things are going, if President Obama proposed a national "Happiness Day" it would be opposed as some sort of socialist trick to win votes. Likewise, if someone on the Right suggested "prudence" as a virtue, it would probably be attacked by the Left as a religiously motivated plot to oppress the disenfranchised masses. These kinds of self-righteous and divisive conversations (disguised as discussions of values) fueled 24/7 by radio, TV and internet media are not only destroying who we are, but also killing the possibility of who we can be.

I don't think there is an institutional or systemic solution to this condition once it takes hold. As we have seen with other nations, once a population and its systems of governance become locked in a cynical spiral of holding power for the sake of power, then systemic corruption takes hold. Whatever vision or purpose may have existed at the outset is lost to history and the society becomes disconnected from itself. Individuals begin to carve out lives for themselves. The government and the nation become more or less irrelevant. Political entrepreneurs rush into to offer new identities to their constituents and we all become "hyphenated" or labeled in one way or another. And so now I am a Caucasian-American.

The solution to institutionalized divisiveness is personal responsibility by each member of the society. Only by changing our individual conversations and rebuilding our relationships with those who have other views can we begin to remember and rediscover who we are. Only then can we begin to build a future that includes all of us.

Yesterday, I challenged a group of people to see if they could have 100 percent of their conversations for the next 30 days be in a positive or purposeful context that is grounded in their vision. Essentially, I challenged them to make every conversation count. This would include adding value for the other person or people in every situation. Consider that if just 40 people have 10 conversations that count a day, then they would be having a total of 12,000 conversations a month. If each of those conversations had just a small impact... and if this idea caught on, how long might it be before the whole system would transform and people would be having nothing other than conversations for possibility? What might the world be like when we have so many people simultaneously forwarding their positive visions in one way or another?

The point is that we have choice.

We have a choice about who we choose to be. And we have a choice about how we relate to the future. We have a choice about where we commit ourselves and our time and our talents.

Making these choices is what distinguishes who we are. And our choices will determine our future--as individuals, as groups, as nations and as a global community.

Copyright 2010 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.