I am reading Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up by Patricia Ryan Madson (Full review coming soon.)
This post is about one very specific chapter within Improv Wisdom, and one very specific idea that has great relevance not only because I have declared this month “Say something nice month”, but also because of the national mood and the Wall Street sit-ins happening now.
Chapter 9 – “Wake up to the Gifts” has a sub-section, “Investigate your debt to the world”.
I find this idea to be entirely relevant to our current times. There are a great many people suffering from a sense of overblown entitlement and self-worth.
“I should not have to pay my taxes. I have earned this money. It is mine. I am a self-made millionaire, I do not owe anyone anything. If you are poor it is your own fault and I am not responsible for that, or for you.”
To which, I and everyone occupying Wall Street, rightly says, “BULLSHIT.”
You did not get here on your own. None of us did.
You were taught, helped, cared for, encouraged. You did not build the house you live in, nor the furniture and technology that fills it. You did not produce all of the food that fills your fridge and pantry. You did not earn your money alone. There was a company, clients, consumers, employees, employers, managers, temps, contractors who helped you get to where you are. Wherever that is.
There is no such thing as a self-made millionaire. Or a self-made person period. We do not exist in isolation.
Would Steve Jobs have been Steve jobs without the support of everyone at Apple? Will Apple continue to be Apple without Steve Jobs? We don’t know. But history has shown us that up to now the two have been highly interdependent.
Yes, Steve had vision, and drive, and intelligence, and intuition, and discernment. But he did not create or even conceive of the iPhone, or the iPod, or the Macbook in a vacuum. He had help. He had the help of his competitors who showed him what he DIDN’T want to do. He had the support of his staff who lived up to his exacting standards. He had the creative genius of a carefully crafted collective consciousness operating in residence at 1 Infinite Loop. He had the feedback and support of millions of customers. He had the skills and devotion of thousands of workers, engineers, crafters who physically put the vision of Apple together into tangible devices to be used by people.
Steve Jobs is a legend built on the backs, the sweat, the blood, the minds and souls of thousands, millions, of people each contributing one small piece, often silently – unacknowledged by Steve, or his rabid fans.
In this section on investigating your debt to the world, Patricia recounts her own experience with this practice in Japan. She spent two weeks meditating on it and was asked to start at the beginning, at birth, and then move forward, chronologically and methodically from her earliest memories to the present answering the following questions:
What have you received from others during your life?
What have you given back to them?
What trouble or bother have you given them?
Now you may not have two weeks set aside to mediate just at the moment, so let’s simplify this. Focus on the moment. Focus on today. Answer those questions and examine your own debt to the world.
Start with something simple. How did the computer (or other device) that you are reading this on come to you? Who built it? Who paid for it? Who sold it? Did someone recommend it to you? What about the programs on it? Who designed and programmed them? How did they get on your computer?
Who else contributed to your day? What have you given back? What demands have you made? What burden have you caused?
If you examine this honestly, most people will see that they are operating under a debt. We live in a world where we receive much more than we give. We live in a world filled with support, encouragement, help.
Look around you and acknowledge all the gifts surrounding you, from the chair you are sitting on to the screen you are reading this on to the beverage at your hand.
Notice the many people who support you each day. The many people “just doing their job” who make your day easier. The retail clerk, the road crew fighting your road rage to give you a smoother drive next time you come this way, the bank teller, the restaurant server, the janitor. Notice all of these silent benefactors in your life from the lowliest employee to the manager who helps orchestrate it all.Value them.
Understand your debt and use it as the impetus to become a participant in the culture of the gift. Begin to pay your debt forward.
Make a point of thanking people for thankless jobs.
Replace the myth of the self-made person with the reality of our interdependence.
As Patricia reminded me, “Everything we do (or refrain from doing) matters.” Your effort, or neglect, has consequences.
Name your blessings and share them. Thank the people who help you. Don’t be afraid to give them credit. People won’t think less of you for receiving help, they’ll think more of you for acknowledging it.
And, if you have EVER driven on a public road, walked on a public sidewalk, gone to a public school (or hired an employee who went to a public school), received care in a public hospital, enjoyed a public park, borrowed a book from a public library, used the services of the police, firemen or EMTs, please pay your taxes.
Thank you, Patrica, for this wonderful and enlightening book. I cannot wait to share it with others. There is so much in here that will resonate with other writers struggling to get their words onto the page. I really value your insight, your clear language and personal examples. I cannot wait to try out your many exercises. Thank you for sharing your hard-won wisdom with others. You are undoubtably a significant part of many people’s success story. Thank you.