Nobody Can Save Us From Ourselves

These days, to be an economist is to be the life of the party. Although I don’t go to many parties, there has been a steady stream of workmen in our home this summer. When they find out that I’m an economist, they feel an urge to share their opinions on the future of the economy and how to fix it. More often than not, they seem to have no interest in my views.

Not that I’m offended by their lack of interest in my views. I find it fascinating to listen to theirs, and I learn a lot by doing so. The other day a heating technician was in our home. He is a man in his late 20s, and we have dealt with him many times. He is a fine problem solver, excellent at what he does, and hard working. Let’s call him Jack.

When the topic came to the economy, Jack began to tell me that the problem was that too many jobs are being shipped overseas. He told me about his father who was a well-paid machinist until age 57 when he lost his job. In Jack’s words “it was shipped overseas.” Jack explained that his dad had no other skills and could do nothing else; when he lost his job, his health began to slip. His father’s diabetes began to flare up, and now his father is on a disability pension.

Somehow the topic turned to computers. Jack explained with a broad smile that he had no use for computers, that he wasn’t any good at them, and that he could never learn them. I was puzzled. Our heating units are very high-tech and Jack was a wiz at fixing them. Where did he get the idea that he could never be good at computers?

As I listened to Jack, I could imagine hearing Jack’s father saying those very words over and over at home while Jack was growing up. Jack’s father’s job didn’t come to a sudden end. Instead, machinists’ jobs were in steady decline over decades. Many times, the topic may have come up about what would Jack’s father do when he finally lost his job. And like a mantra, the hypnotic refrain may have been repeated—I’m only a machinist, that is all I can do, and I can never learn computers.

We are all Jack and we are all Jack’s father. We all are blinded and crippled by at least some limiting beliefs and stories that we tell ourselves about what we can and cannot do. Our beliefs are frequently contradictory and absurd, but they make sense to us. Like Jack, we may shop at Wal-Mart but complain about jobs being lost to China. We may secretly relish being a victim and argue strongly for the story of our victimhood. And we may be waiting for the right politician to save us.

Like many of us, Jack has chosen to adopt at least some of his father’s beliefs about what he can and cannot do. And in that, we find the genesis of the strange passion that many generate over who will be the next president of the United States. Not that there is a real choice, but many are hoping that someone external to themselves can save them.

Obama can’t. Nor can McCain. Only we can challenge our beliefs—beliefs that block us from using the invisible supply of energy that is ready to flow through us.

Invisible supply? Joel Goldsmith writes, “Ideas, inspiration, intelligence, wisdom, service, or love bring about the forms of supply, but they themselves are invisible. Only the results are visible.”

These are qualities that need not be added to us; instead these are qualities that we express. Since we need but allow ourselves to express these qualities, the zero-sum mentality that politicians encourage is corrosive to both the well-being of our nation as well as to each of us. After all, how can someone who is encouraged to see himself as a helpless victim change?

Could Jack or Jack’s father learn computers or another field? Of course. Might it be difficult and time-consuming? Yes, of course. But the invisible supply will work through them, and it will use their talents—if they allow themselves to express their talents. And for that to happen, they first need to drop their stories.

Rose Wilder Lane in her riveting book The Discovery of Freedom writes:

For six thousand years at least, a majority has generally believed in pagan gods. A pagan god, whatever it is called, is an Authority which (men believe) controls the energy, the acts and therefore the fate of all individuals.

The pagan view of the universe is that it is static, motionless, limited and controlled by an Authority. The pagan view of man is that individuals are, and by their nature should and must be, controlled by some Authority outside themselves.

Of course, as Lane demonstrates, this view that others can and should control your energy is false. It results in poverty and misery. Nobody can save us from our own false beliefs.


13 Responses to Nobody Can Save Us From Ourselves

  1. James D. says:

    Its amazing how much spider-monkey mentality happens. For those reading who may not know, spider monkeys love peanuts. The spider monkeys are also considered a delicacy by local indigenous people. The way they catch spider monkeys is to put a peanut in a hollow gourd (secured to the ground or a triee) with a narrow neck such that an empty hand can squeeze in, but a fist closed around the nut will not come out. The monkeys grab the peanut, but then cannot escape, and will not let go of the nut as they watch the tribespeople come to kill them. Jack and Jack’s dad could not let go of their respective nuts.
    This idea is also behind the success of the book “Who Moved My Cheese”, about mice in a maze and what they do when the regular cheese disappears. One sits, waits, complains and starves. The other waits briefly, then figures he’d better go find something to eat.
    The zero-sum game is not only what allows useless politicians to continue getting elected, but what traps people for whom situations change, like Jack’s dad. I once heard a quote from a speaker “Hell begins on the day when God grants us clear vision of all we might have accomplished”. There is so much talent and potential inside each and every one of us that goes untapped because we are doing something else. But I guess habit and ego and those limiting beliefs don’t get out of the way when the circumstances change and the old ways don’t work anymore.
    And I guess the truly insidious thing about those limiting beliefs is how pervasive they are. They are personal “I can’t learn computers”, familial “people in our family have always been heavy”, cultural “This is Iowa, all we know is corn”, and societal “we’re too conservative for that”. There are probably other levels I haven’t fathomed yet. So the question is, how do we escape as many of them as possible? We see what happens when that rare person breaks free; we get Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King.

  2. Bob G. says:


    Your post is excellent.

    I would only add that the “breaking free” you speak of in your last sentence is never achieved but merely an accumulated awareness of the choices we do have.

    It is a matter of incremental awareness that is always in play and not a place we actually get to.

    As we become more aware of the self-imposed limitations and ego based thinking that usually clouds our way of seeing the world we see ever more clearly a different path that was hidden from. This where the great ones (both known and unknown) all begin.

    Bob G.

  3. Frank v2 says:

    Dr. B,

    Every one of us can easily be trapped into allowing our stories to dominate our egos which in turn control our lives, and create a false “I can’t” attitude. And I believe this inability to change our stories gets worse as we age and become more complacent and set in our ways. My 80 year old mother, for example, refuses to learn a computer because she says she “can’t”. The reality is that she is a smart woman and could master basic PC functions if she so chose to, but clearly she has created stories that help her to justify her “can’t” position.

    Sometimes a catastrophic event can help shift our ego controlled thinking and allow us to make the necessary changes to adapt and move forward. But as James points out, not everyone can handle having their “cheese” moved. It is not comfortable and therefore we don’t want to deal with it. Hunger can be a motivator for some to find a new source of “cheese”. I often wonder about the folks that panhandle on the side of the road. We enable their behavior by giving them money. Why work or even consider getting a job when people will throw you money? In fact, I bet some of those folks do pretty well: they pay no taxes and have very low wardrobe costs. Hmmm…..maybe that is my next career change. Ah but I digress.

    At any rate, I believe that without pain there can be no gain. Mankind has in general moved forward by being forced to take a step back, then figuring out how to overcome the challenge presented and moving ahead once more. Business does it ever day. And people do it every day. The week will perish if they cannot adapt. But the strong will learn how to adapt to their situation and move forward. And in order to be strong, the ego needs to be put into check so that the “ I can’t” attitude is not allowed to prevail. I have had over my 50 years a number of career changes due to changing business climates and thankfully I have prevailed. But I have at times listened to the negative energy my ego was spewing in my head, and until I could turn that off, I was virtually crippled in terms of moving forward. My ego was trying to place blame and pity on the situation, rather than laughing at my predicament and moving onward.

  4. James D. says:

    You’re right, the “breaking free” is more of an incremental climb, but my reference was for that person and/or moment when the climb finally gets them above the clouds and they can clearly see for miles–that epiphany moment. That breaking free is usually more like stories of “overnight success” that takes 20 or more years of work to attain.

    Frank, you hit the nail on the head. No pain, no gain. And so often, at least here in the land of opportunity, the only real “pain” we face is getting ourselves up off the couch and going and doing something! We don’t get shot at or have to cross bodies of water in shoddy boats just to get free. All we have to do is get ourselves up!

  5. Jim J. says:

    I am from Ohio and spend a lot of time back there visiting my friends and family, and was just there this past weekend. The subject of the election came up in several different situations, and it seems to always lead back to the the topic of job loss. I completely understand why, as Ohio has been hit pretty hard. I feel very unpopular when I try to make the points that are made above and in the comment responses. The argument that folks need to “figure out” how to move on doesn’t sit very well. The fact that politicians prey on them and use them to get elected doesn’t help the matter, either.

    I grew up a rust belt town of 50,000 in the middle of Ohio. I knew at an early age that the town was struggling, and that the future was bleak. My Dad worked at the tire plant, and saw an opportunity in the early 60’s to work in their computer room (nobody else wanted to). He could see the writing on the wall then, and had a long career in the IT field until he retired.

    The tough thing for my Dad, though, and for the town, is there are not even any real “corporate jobs” left there either. They all left for Columbus, or parts further away. He struggled with my desire to leave Ohio (after a four-year internship at his company where he worked), but he didn’t hold me back, either. He knew. The funny thing is I would have ended up in Kansas City had I stayed at the company after college (if having a job at all).

    I imagine seeing me pack up and leave the town our family lived for generations was devastating for my Dad, but I know he’s proud of the life I’ve built here, and my successes to date. He held my older sister (who is still living there) back once from an internship out of state, and has told me he’s regretted it.

    I think if a few more people in Ohio would just understand the situation a little more clearly, and understand that things will never be the way they were the state would grow once again and be successful.

  6. Jim D., Bob, Frank and Jim J.,

    Thank you all for your astute comments. We can identify limiting beliefs (our own, those of our family or of the larger society we all swim in) and by being aware that these beliefs are not facts we regain our power of choice.

    It is next to impossible to fight a societal tidal wave. The wave right now we are entering will find attitudes like Jim J. found in Ohio to be increasingly common.

  7. Bob G. says:

    Perhaps the biggest obstacle to defeating the self-fulfilling illusion that we can’t change or that our leaders, government, parents, boss, institution, union, school, spouses, children or (fill in the blank) are responsible for keeping us in the way we have become accustomed to is our inability to recognize that the world owes us nothing!

    Ironically, once we drop the illusion of entitlement and accept full repsonsibility for shaping our own destiny, the world indeed does come to us.

    Fear based thinking is the best tool of those who dupe us into thinking that we do indeed deserve “someone” to take care of us and maintain us in the ways we have become accustomed to.

    Freedom comes only when we can accept the reality that nothing is guaranteed and results cannot be engineered by central planners, great leaders or the governing elite.

    Every man could fail or suceed and probably should do so many times in their respective careers and lives.

    If there is such a thing as the “greater good”, it finds us thru the collective activity of free men who are not afraid of failure and expect nothing to be guaranteed. History proves that we do not create the “greater good” despite both noble and nefarious attempts to do so over the course of human history.

    Bob G.

  8. E says:

    Dr. B,

    While you make compelling arguments, I strongly disagree with your post. Well, you and the rest of your sycophants. Assume that Jack’s point is valid — his father was trained to do a job, performed it masterfully for, say, 39 years, and did not have the foundation for high tech. To retool would mean about 8 years of full time instruction, by which time, one would ask, “what is the point, he’s 65?” Jack also states that his job has been shipped overseas. Well, what good is learning computer skills to him when Chinese electricians start installing your air conditioners? Okay, that muddies the water. What will he do with all those newly acquired computer skills when the bulk of new work for electricians moves to Shanghai?

    Since I’m in agreement with Jack, I too have drawn a line — I still make copies with carbon paper, I listen to music on 8-track, and, to my team leaders, I tell them, “I’ll call you from a phone-booth at the airport when I land… if I can find one and enough quarters.” Also, I composed this on a carbon-ribbon typewriter (took me five sheets of paper before it was completed).

  9. Bob G. says:

    Refutation of “E”:

    Glenn Abbott was in Baltimore last night at the Orioles game. He was a former team-mate of mine with the (then) Califiornia Angels. During his career in the majors he threw a no-hitter!!

    This is an amazing thing to accomplish at the major league level… Oh, and there is one more thing… He was born without a right hand!!! So here is a guy who despite his obvious handi-cap and obvious disadvantage found a way to compete growing up, stuck with the game and developed a destiny that NO ONE could have predicted.

    In fact, had he adopted the mentality that “E” espouses above – he would not have bothered to pursue his dream. I can hear him saying, “what is the point?…”

    It is important to note that Glen could have played the victim and expected others to take care of him – after all, his condition was not his fault.

    Even if Glen had not made the major leagues, or high school or college team – the point is he did pursue is dream with no expectation of a guarantee by the “nanny state” to provide him an outcome.

    I, for one, am glad that Glen did not spend his time asking “what is the point?” in the way that “E” proposes. How many would we have lost, known and unknown, had this become an accepted mantra???

    Bob G.

  10. Bob,

    Glenn Abbott is an amazing story of what is possible when we go beyond our conditioned thinking!


    As always I appreciate your humor (last paragraph of your comment). I’m not sure if the first paragraph was meant to be humorous but Charles Hugh Smith wrote today and to the point:

    I really don’t care who wins the election; it’s utterly, completely meaningless who wins and who loses as long as the American citizenry demand freebies and giveaways and phony assurances that we’re all victims now of something or other. We will get the political cowardice we demand in our “leaders,” because the political class has seen what happens when you speak the truth and ask for sacrifice and maturity and long-term thinking; you lose, and lose big.

    We will get the leadership we deserve, and the country will sink into a quagmire of financial ruin that we as a nation have earned by our adolescent self-destruction.

  11. E says:

    If you can’t see the humor in “what’s the point, he’s 65?”, then I believe we have a failure to communicate. As in all fables involving service retirement age, when you reach the magical age of 65, the Federal Government comes down and sprinkles fairy-dust all over you and you never ever have to worry about living or finding purpose in life or eating whole foods without chewing. I think we should all live within this fantasy construct; “when I get to 65… everything’s gonna be alright.”

  12. E,

    Got it. Many will find out what a fairy tale that is indeed.

  13. Frank Salisbury says:

    Wasn’t it Erma Bombeck that wrote: “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me'”?

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