Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Things That Enslave: Part 2

In Monday’s blog post, I introduced 10 Shackles that can enslave your capacity to effectively exercise Self-Action Leadership and earn Personal Freedom.

Today's post covers the first four (4) shackles, as follows:

  1. The abdication of personal responsibility
  2. The scourge of selfishness
  3. The quest to obtain something for nothing
  4. Greed 



When we speak of responsibility, we refer to two specific things. First, the ability to control your own natural, human impulses. Responsible people respond consciously and strategically to what happens to them rather than reacting based on natural impulse, mood, or circumstance. In his groundbreaking book on emotional intelligence, Daniel Goleman wrote:

Those who are at the mercy of impulse—who lack self-control—suffer a moral deficiency: The ability to control impulse is the base of will and character. … And if there are any two moral stances that our times call for, they are … self-restraint and compassion.[1]

Second, personal responsibility includes the Existential Duties we hold to ourselves, other people, larger groups of people in which we participate and/or support (e.g., neighborhood, community, church, club, nation or state), and even the planet at large. Everyone has duties. From a toddler who has a duty to become potty trained, a middle school student obliged to study hard, or the President of the United States, who is oath-bound to “preserve, defend, and protect the Constitution,” we all have duties.

When enough people abdicate personal duties, the cumulative effects can be disastrous. Potential results include wasted opportunities, pervasive dishonesty, a dysfunctional legal system, shattered friendships and families, crime, ignorance, poverty, anger, hostility, drug abuse, larceny, bullying, rape, sexually transmitted disease, revenge, murder, etc. A detailed presentation of these statistics is beyond the scope of this book. Nevertheless, an entire book could readily be written citing figures that indicate the widespread negative consequences of irresponsibility.

Taking personal responsibility doesn’t begin with choosing a college major, career, or marriage partner; nor does it start out with decisions to commit grand larceny, physical assault, murder, or suicide. It begins with small decisions like throwing your trash in its proper receptacle, getting out of bed in the morning, completing assignments, and paying your bills on time. It also includes making conscious, rather than capricious, choices about the media you consume, the people with whom you associate, and the extent to which you are willing to delay gratification in a variety of life arenas. Personal responsibility begins with the small stuff. If the small stuff is not responsibly dealt with, it begins to impact the big stuff later on in life.

In decades past, especially prior to the 1990s, New York City had an enormous crime problem, especially in its subway system. Murder, robbery, rape, and assault & battery were rampant throughout the city and subway system. Some crimes were even being committed in broad daylight on city streets.

Things started to change in the mid-late 1980s and 1990s after city leaders implemented new policies that offered little to no tolerance for relatively small crimes—like jumping subway turnstiles, graffiti vandalism, and jaywalking. To some, going after such relatively minor offenses seemed silly in light of the terrible robberies and murders occurring concurrently throughout the city. Yet an amazing thing happened: as graffiti was removed and turnstile jumpers were apprehended, more serious crimes began to abate as well. One murder mystery was even solved when a murderer was caught, not in the act of homicide, but while illegally jumping a subway turnstile. He was later fingerprinted, convicted, and put behind bars.

Former mayor Rudy Giuliani, one of the leaders behind such policies promoted a philosophy that turned a mantra—don’t sweat the small stuff—completely on its head by advocating a maxim proclaiming the exact opposite: “Always Sweat the Small Stuff”![2] The lesson contained in these successful crime-battling strategies is compelling: if you take care of the small things, the big things have a way of taking care of themselves.


One of the simplest “small things” we can do to exercise personal responsibility is to not litter. At Freedom Focused, we despise litter. We don’t like seeing it anywhere, anytime. I personally make a concerted effort to not litter myself, and will sometimes go out of my way to chase down a piece of litter that the wind has wafted beyond my reach. As my wife can attest, I can be a little obsessive about it, but at the end of the day, we both enjoy living in a clean home that sits on a tidy yard in an orderly neighborhood, so she is willing to put up with my occasional chase after a stray piece of litter.

A few years ago, my wife and I lived in an apartment complex in a neighborhood on the West side of Houston, Texas. At the beginning of the new school year, the bus stop outside our apartment became noticeably more littered than it had been during the summer. Without fail, by 8:30 in the morning on school days, a dozen or more pieces of trash would be strewn about the bus stop. Having a McDonald's across the street from the bus stop made it even easier for student's to accumulate and then carelessly discard their trash wherever they pleased. I found this thoughtless display of littering embarrassing, but sadly, the students didn’t seem to care, or if any of them did, they were too afraid to confront their peers or do anything about it. The sidewalk surrounding the bus stop was also noticeably dirtier than other sidewalks in the vicinity—dotted with numerous black pieces of mashed-in chewing gum and large liquid stains from careless citizens who cannot seem to distinguish the difference between the sidewalk and the trash can, even though the trash can is within ten feet of the bus stop.

As a concerned citizen, I thought a lot about what I might do to remedy the situation. First, one afternoon I asked a group of teenagers waiting at the bus stop to place their garbage in the trashcan. Without the benefit of a relationship (as a parent, teacher, mentor, or friend), I, a random, adult passerby, had little moral authority with the students, so my meager effort predictably did not produce any results.

My next idea was to make a sign encouraging bus riders to remember to place their trash in its proper place. I made a copy of the sign and posted both inside the bus stop for all to see. Not surprisingly, within a week or two, both signs had been removed, and the littering problem persisted. If anything, it seemed to only get even worse.

Littering may sound like an inconsequential offense in this day and age of so many deeper social problems and cultural ills. How can tossing one’s McDonald’s cup on the ground for someone else to pick up compare with larceny, family abuse, drug abuse, alcoholism, rape, assault, battery, and murder? I admit it seems hard to make the comparison; nevertheless, I can’t help but wonder how many hardened criminals' careers in crime began by tossing their McDonald’s cup out their window instead of placing it in the trashcan where it belongs. It may sound like a small thing, but small things are almost always what lead to big things, as the New York City subway miracle demonstrated. Anyone who is serious about producing real changes in neighborhoods and communities throughout our nation and world would be wise to start with the small stuff.

Those who abdicate their duty harm the world and miss life’s beauty.


Selfishness has always been a struggle for mankind. It is the hen under which the other nine bad eggs (shackles) are hatched. Do away with selfishness, and you free yourself from all the other shackles at the same time.

Selfishness is a sure recipe for misery, and ultimately, for failure and despair as well. Conversely, selflessness is the root of all long-term happiness and fulfillment, and of all lasting success. In the history of this world, the greatest men and women – meaning the ones who served best, did the most good, and left the most indelible legacies of contribution – were, are, and ever will be the selfless ones. While it is not uncommon for a selfish person to rise to high levels of education, power, prestige, and sophistication, only the selfless truly become great.

Selfishness is both an innate and learned behavior. We come into the world naturally on the lookout for our own survival, interests, and comfort. Furthermore, we often deal with additional genetic impulses and mimetic tendencies that are rooted in selfish behaviors.

Selfishness is the single most damning and damaging human flaw. Without the noble trait of selflessness, life is truly “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” [or long, depending how you look at it]. [3] The good news is that selfishness can be conquered through Self-Action Leadership and Grace. This is good news because conquering selfishness is an on-going prerequisite to achieving Existential Growth.

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others.’”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
(1929 - 1968)


In his second inaugural address, President Abraham Lincoln eloquently articulated the evils of slavery as a systematic process of “wringing bread from the sweat of other men’s faces.” Thankfully, slavery has been illegal in the United States for nearly 150 years now. Unfortunately, a different permutation of essentially the same desire—to get something for nothing--has arisen in troubling fashion today. This concept of getting something for nothing is really a misnomer. Whenever you get something for nothing, someone else has to work to produce and buy it. Irrevocable natural laws of the real world demand a price for everything.
Marvels of science and technology may have created the illusion that storehouses of milk, bread, meat, clothing, and supplies of all kinds are plentiful, but eventually natural law calls all unpaid balances due. Bankruptcy and debt are legal options in a social system, but natural systems don’t afford it commensurate status.

The quest to obtain something for nothing begins its insidious course by ruining individual lives, families, and organizations. Over time, it further infects entire communities, states, nations, and even the world-at-large. In any natural system, production must either equal or surpass consumption or economic atrophy ensues. Prosperity requires a proportionate ratio between consumption and production. Prosperity ends the moment consumption exceeds production.

The world has enough consumers; it needs more producers. It has enough enervating sloth; it needs more energizing effort. It has enough buck passers and buck takers; it needs more buck classes and buck makers.

Some say the little red hen was a prude; others say no, she was wise;
Pardon me if I sound at all rude, but that hen’s a class act in my eyes.


There are no ends to the ways in which greed manifests itself in our nation and world. In this section, I focus on one specific component of greed: out-of-control income inequality.

Freedom Focused ardently supports American capitalism, which affords entrepreneurs the right to earn as much money as their hard work and talent are capable. Moreover, individual liberty grants that individuals and corporations have the right to be greedy in the pursuit of profit. While we deeply respect this right as protected by individual and organizational liberty, we do not respect greediness.

Just because you may have the “right,” to do something doesn’t mean that what you want to do actually is right. Many of those who benefit from American capitalism are greedy. Their avarice is one of the great ills of our society. Rapacity is neither respectable nor admirable.

A grave problem currently facing the United States today is income inequality. Some CEOs make several hundred times the salary of their company’s entry-level workers. In both the private and public sectors, there seem to be few limits to the avarice of executives and their acolytes. Moreover, such greed often creates a vicious cycle whereby the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

A solution to this problem exists, but it does not lie in political agendas bent on placing higher taxes on the wealthy. However well intentioned, that approach only breeds class warfare; it encourages a culture of disdain and disgust among the haves, and a culture of laziness and victimization among the have-nots. The government cannot effectively legislate how private citizens and businesses allocate their money. Governmental attempts to do so is presumptuous, insulting, and threatens personal liberty (communistic). As despicable as corporate and other greed in America often is, the solution to the problem does not lie in state or federal coercion through taxation.

Wherein then lies the answer? The solution lies with individual self-leaders acknowledging their greed and opting to freely to curb their own cupidity.

To many readers this may sound like ultimate utopian idealism--an utterly unrealistic and unworkable option in the real world. And as the world is right now, the critics would be right most of the time. At Freedom Focused, we envision a different world--a better world--where rightful regard trumps reckless rapacity as individual self-action leaders decide to tread a higher fiscal path.

Not naïve about the difficulty of creating such a dramatic cultural shift on a macro scale, my hope is primarily grounded in practicing what I preach in my own company. We have therefore written specific provisions into Freedom Focused's Corporate Constitution ensuring the expansion of performance-based entry-level employee and mid-level manager salaries and incentives in conjunction with capping the same for executives—including my own as CEO.

We still favor a graduated organizational pay scale because we believe higher pay for positions requiring greater education, insight, experience, and that carry greater responsibility, is justifiable, and can serve to fuel and channel healthy ambition. However, the ratio between the highest and lowest wage, benefit, and incentive earners ought to look more like 30, 20, or 10:1 instead of 300, 200, or 100:1.

There are two basic ways to bring about the death of greed in our Country and throughout the world. The first method is something all of us can do individually. The second method is something corporate boards and other executives can do together.

First, as individuals, we can commit to the lifelong habit of gifting away a set percentage of our incomes to those in need. However, we must ensure that our money goes to credible and trustworthy organizations that effectively allocate funds to just and worthy causes.

In his book, Unlimited Power, Tony Robbins--the famous motivational guru--suggested giving away ten percent of your income to charity. I agree that this is an ideal percentage to aim for, at least until you are able to give away an even higher percentage. If you don’t think you can give ten percent right now, then start out by giving eight, five, three, or even one percent, with the goal of eventually graduating up to ten percent or more. With very few exceptions, everyone can afford to give a portion of their income away to those who have even greater needs. Doing so may require you to cut back on some creature comforts and other expenditures not necessary for survival. But it will also provide you with the opportunity to engage in self-sacrifice, which always promotes Existential Growth. In the process, you will become a more disciplined and compassionate human being. Like Dr. Seuss’s Grinch, your may even find your heart growing a size or two.

As strange as it may sound, my own experience practicing this principle has actually blessed me financially, in addition to helping me to avoid a preoccupation with money. I am happier with myself as I practice this principle.

Over time, you will discover that giving away ten percent or more of your income will help your financial portfolio grow even larger. From an accounting standpoint, I know this sounds counterintuitive, if not absurd. Nevertheless, many generous and wealthy donors have substantiated this paradox of ‘getting through giving’ throughout the ages. Indeed, many of the most generous people in the world are also among the richest. If you study the lives of these wealthy philanthropists, you will discover that in many cases, they were often generous people long before they became rich. Wealth does not begin in your bank account; it begins in your mind and heart. Similarly, generosity usually doesn’t begin after you have become rich; it is something that, when practiced over time, tends to naturally attract riches to you, thereby empowering you to give even more.

The second way to reduce income inequality is for corporate boards and other executives to willingly choose to pay themselves less while paying their hard working subordinates more. The operative words here are hard working. A person who does not work hard and fails to get results does not deserve to be paid well. But a person who works hard and adds value to an organization should be compensated commensurately for his or her work. If corporate heads take less for themselves and give more to their hard-working and creative subordinates, they will attract and retain a work force far superior than what they could ever hope for by merely lining their own pockets with platinum.

Make no mistake; we at Freedom Focused are ardent supporters of American capitalism. What we aren't fans of is American greed. Capitalism is often demonized as a synonym of greed, but this is a misnomer; the two are not the same thing. We believe in entrepreneurship and capitalism. We encourage entrepreneurs and capitalists to be creative and work hard. We even encourage the pursuit of riches if that is what you want. But in the process, don't lose your perspective about what it really means to be rich in a sea of selfish striving when you could wisely and generously share portions of your profits with those who made them possible in the first place--not to mention worthy causes outside the workforce. And don't miss out on the priceless opportunities you will have to do good with your riches outside of your organization.

Financial security and independence are worthy goals. They are an ambition I have harbored all my life. I want to be financially secure, successful, and eventually independent. Likewise, I want my colleagues and employees to be financially secure, successful, and independent. Moreover, we want YOU to be financially secure, successful, and independent--if that is something you desire for yourself and are willing to invest the work required to earn it honestly. But in all our striving, let us not delude ourselves into thinking we need or deserve a salary 300 times more than someone else who works for us. True self-action leaders cannot afford to harbor such greed in their souls.

At Freedom Focused, we are ever on the lookout for entry-level workers and mid-level managers who have paid the price in time, effort, and education to earn salaries that are superior to their peers in analogous positions in other industries and companies. And we stand ready to let anyone go who does not rise to the standards that superior compensation demands.

We are also ever on the lookout for executives who are more interested in developing themselves—and leading others to do the same—than they are in unnecessarily engorging their own financial portfolio. You will never hear of me—or any other Freedom Focused executive—making several hundred times what an entry-level employee makes.[4] That approach abandons fairness, and fails to embrace the Abundance Mentality:

The Abundance Mentality … flows out of a deep inner sense of personal worth and security. It is the paradigm that there is plenty out there and enough to spare for everybody. It results in sharing of prestige, of recognition, of profits, of decision making. It opens possibilities, options, alternatives, and creativity.[5]
At Freedom Focused, we believe in the Abundance Mentality. We also believe in the American Dream, which is really just an extension of the Abundance Mentality. I even believe in getting rich through hard work and ambition. I have no wish, however, to inordinately line my pockets with money that rightfully belongs to the soldiers in the trenches when those soldiers do quality work that adds value to my company. Such work is just as important as mine, and in a tangible sense, is often even more important than mine.

Greedy gut, escape your rut,
Give yourself a fat pay cut,
Lose yourself in care for others;
And better compensate your brothers

Next Blog Post: December 11, 2014: Chapter 12: Things that Enslave (Part III) Shackles 5-7.

[1] Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ. New York, NY: Bantam Books. Page xii.
[2] Giuliani, R.W. (2002). Leadership. New York, NY: Miramax. Page 46.
[3] From Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan. Part I, Chapter 13, Paragraph 10.
[4] See Freedom Focused Corporate Constitution at the end of this book for details about agent compensation.
[5] Covey, S.R. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. New York, NY: Fireside. Page 219-220.  

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