Earl R. Smith II, PhD

Jun 252017

Earl R. Smith II, PhD

A Lesson Learned

I don’t believe that someone who has not had a series of superlative mentors can be a mentor. You have to be on the receiving end of mentoring before you can start giving back. That is why, after I came to learn this very important lesson, I spent a lot of time with each potential mentor asking about the mentors in their life. That time and effort always paid off.

There are five very good reasons why I believe that to be the case. The first is that good mentors are always grateful for what they have received from their own guides. I have not found that gratitude in people posing as mentors who have not had good mentoring. Second, good mentors are engaged in passing on knowledge and understanding. They see themselves as conduits rather than prophets. Third, good mentors are compassionate rather then ideologically dogmatic – they are not selling a method or approach but engaging on a human-to-human basis to help another fellow traveler. Fourth, good mentors are fearless when it comes to interpersonal interaction – what I call adult conversations – and have a low tolerance to wasting their time and effort. Finally, good mentors are not selling solutions or quick fixes. Each engagement is unique and tailored to the person being mentored.

Here is an example of that I mean from my own experience with one of my most important mentors and the impact it had on others.

Many years ago, while I was working on Wall Street, I had the great good fortune of having a mentor who took the time to explain the world as he understood it. At the time, I was focused on evaluating companies and management teams as candidates for inward investment and/or potential acquisition by clients of the firm I was working for.

One of my tasks was to meet with and evaluate senior management teams. My mentor would often sit in on the interviews and then ask me about what I had observed and what conclusions I had come to. After one such interview, I was very impressed by the people I met and offered a fairly glowing assessment of their capabilities. He smiled, shook his head and said,

“Leaders have a vision, managers have to-do lists. You just spent an hour with a manager.” Continue reading »

Jun 232017

Dr. Earl R. Smith II, PhD

Mentoring is about helping a person to reclaim their life and find the true path – the one that they were made to travel. One of the major differences between mentoring my way and how many practice either mentoring or coaching is the agenda of the person rendering aid. I have encountered so many who aspire to such a role but who seem to be engaged in an exercise of self-validation and a demonstration of superior wisdom. These promulgators of postulated preeminence are easy to spot. They have a packaged approach – a one-size-fits-all perspective. They proscribe much like your typical sixth grade teacher does. “Now children, don’t do that and never say that!”

One of the most astonishing imbalances, when it comes to those who dispense advice, is the imbalance between proscription and prescription. If you read most of what they offer, you are certain to become paranoid and carry a tremendous load of uncertainty into anything you attempt. How many articles have you read that start out “Ten Things Not To Do During…”? One gets the distinct impression that the people who write these articles are looking at the world out of the wrong, posterior orifice.

Basic psychology tells us that the easiest way to sabotage your own interests is to think about ways that you sabotage your own interest. Quick, for the next twenty seconds don’t think of an elephant. See what I mean?

A disgraced US Vice President added a phrase to the lexicon which seems appropriate here. These Nattering Nabobs of Negativism offer a view of the world that is consistently looking down. Their commandments are the clearest evidence of how they view the world. Darkly!

Good Intent?


Got This Feeling?

I’m sure that most of these purveyors of negativism see themselves as good Samaritans. I’m equally sure that they see what they deliver as helpful advice bordering on wisdom. But they are so self-involved that they don’t see the impact of the tone of their message. They’re so involved with the idea that they are doing good that the idea that they’re doing harm is a complete nonstarter for them. What do they say about the road to hell? Oh yes, that it’s paved with good intentions.

I recently came across one of these “Ten Not To…” articles. It was purporting to give advice on how to act during a job interview. As I read it, I could imagine the anxiety building up in a reader who was preparing for an important interview. I could see the brow furrowing and the gut tightening. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

I don’t believe it does any good to load people up with negative proscriptions. The presumption that somehow this amounts to doing good is offensive to me. In my mentoring work, I have seen many examples of people who have been damaged by this kind of presumption. Undoing the damage is not a pleasant experience and not one that is accomplished quickly. I found the article so reflexively negative that I decided to provide an alternative view.

As a side comment, it always amazes me that it always seems to add up to ten; as if the world is organized in such a way that things parade around in groups of ten. Well, to be fair, sometimes they seem to parade around in groups of five. I’m not sure if any of these purveyors of negativity even suspect how intellectually insulting such slavish tendencies toward symmetry are but I can tell you that it’s a clear signal of intellectual weakness on the part of the author. Stronger minds say what they have to say and whatever it adds up to is simply a random occurrence.

So what’s the alternative? Well maybe the following table will help?

Nattering Nabobs of Negativism Positively Positives
Don’t Be Unprepared Be Prepared
Don’t Go Casual Dress Appropriately
Don’t Be Afraid To Ask Questions Remember, you are gathering information as well as providing it.
Don’t Use Clichés Be genuine
Don’t Trash Your Current Employer Focus on your future not your past
Don’t Be Fake The real and authentically who you are
Don’t Chit Chat Focus your comments and questions on what’s important
Don’t Be Evasive Be direct about your interests, concerns and who you are
Don’t Talk Money If the question of money comes up, let the interviewer set the agenda
Don’t Just Walk Away Always remember that it’s a human being you’ve been talking to. This is a person with whom you may develop a long-term relationship. Treat them accordingly both during and after the interview.

So let me turn to the article and let’s look at a couple of quotes. Here’s the first one:

While building three successful businesses I’ve had the opportunity to conduct over a thousand interviews. Let me share with you 10 common faults I’ve identified from that experience. Avoid them if you really want to get the exciting job of your dreams.

Did you catch the stark comparison between the view that the author has of himself and the view that of their audience? The former is shrouded in images of success while the latter is covered with suspicions of ineptitude. But the real sleight-of-hand is in the last sentence. The author is going to tell you what you might be doing wrong but doesn’t intend to tell you how to do it right.

Let’s move on to a second quote:

So, why is it that so many prospective employees don’t seem to grasp the essentials of getting the interviewer to fall in love with them and make a commitment to hire them?

A reasonable question might be, why is a purveyor of love potion #9 so intent on making the individual they are trying to sell the snake oil look so small and incompetent? I’m willing to entertain the suggestion that performance during an interview will help clarify whether you are a good fit for the job you’re interviewing for. But the author seems to completely ignore that issue. In the article, it’s not a question of a good fit, it’s a question of falling in love. Any of you had the experience of having it feel so right on the way in and head south shortly thereafter? I rest my case.

The Message is Marred

The basic problem that I have with the article is that the approach of the author is limiting the impact of some fairly good ideas. There are some positive statements but they are heavily encrusted with negativity. They are also poorly developed.

The process of behavior change is either enhanced or limited by the messages that the person trying to make the change is receiving. During my years of mentoring a wide range of individuals, I have come to understand that “showing the way to” is much more powerful than “showing the way not to”. My own work is with truly transformational journeys during which clients make fundamental and wide reaching changes in their lives. I learned that focusing on the negative is easiest way to induce shame and uncertainty. Focusing on the positive is a much more effective way of supporting an individual in their efforts to make positive changes in their lives.

But I’ve learned something else that’s even more important. I’ve learned that my sixth grade elementary school teacher had a useful technique for helping me to learn. She was insistent and proscriptive. I needed to learn the rules of civilized society and most of them were proscriptions. But then I grew up and so did the people I work with. I learned that treating them like sixth-graders by telling them what not to do is not only unproductive but it’s damaging as well.

As I see it, an author gives themselves away by the approach they take to the reader. Some write in order to massage their ego in public. If you divide their comments you will quickly see that they hold themselves in the highest esteem and their audience in substantially less. My recommendation would be to avoid these people as they will be continually looking down on you.

The good authors hold their readers in high esteem. They are writing with the purpose of communicating with readers that they see as intelligent and able to understand what is being written without having to have it reduced to the Ten Commandments. Good authors also provide positive advice that can lead to an enhanced experience of living.

Do a Survey Before Reading

Here’s a tip that might help you decide which articles to pay attention to and which to ignore. Before you actually read an article scan it for red flags. Keep an eye out for authors who seemed to be too much in love with themselves and reflexively certifying their superiority. Then scanned through the article and see what the rough balance between negative and positive statements is. If the author looks to be a Nattering Nabob of Negativism, look elsewhere.

On the other side, if you find that the article is written by an author who seems to be more interested in helping you understand than taking a belt to you for screwing up, by all means read the article and then search for more from the same author.

The people who will help you make positive changes in your life are those who are both willing and able to make the effort without resorting to polishing their own ego. When you find people like this, get close to them and listen. Let them know who you are and how they can help. One of the greatest joys is finding such a person and being helped by them. But an even greater joy, and I can tell you this from direct experience, is having helped.

Life Is To Short To Drink Bad Wine

About Me

I mentor those who have both the courage and determination to make a truly transformational journey. My approach is heavily influenced by core principles of Zen Buddhism. I don’t offer quick fixes or follow the latest fads. If you are willing to make the long journey – if it’s time for you to come to know the person you really are and can become – if you intend to finally find the path you should be following – if you want to start living life you were truly meant to live – then perhaps we should talk. Send me an e-mail and we’ll arrange a time to chat.

© Earl R Smith II, PhD

Jun 222017

Earl R Smith II, PhD


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Those alive in the closing years of the second decade of the 21st century have a front row seat to the culmination of the largest and most effective swindle in human history. Not since the Middle Ages has the distribution of wealth and power been so skewed towards a small group of the wealthy and powerful. In this article, I want to deal with one of the strategies that the perpetrators of this swindle have employed – a highly effective one which has made it significantly easier to bleed the not-ultra-rich-and-powerful for the benefit of the ultra-rich-and-powerful.

First, a bit of historical background.

“Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.” Juvenal (circa A.D. 100)

The Roman satirical poet Juvenal identifies the only remaining cares of a Roman populace which no longer claims its historical birthright of political involvement. Giving out cheap food and entertainment, ‘bread and circuses’, became the most effective way to domesticate a population and rise to power.

‘Bread and circuses’ means superficial appeasement. In the case of politics, the phrase is used to describe the generation of public approval, not through exemplary or excellent public service or public policy, but through diversion, distraction, or the mere satisfaction of the immediate, shallow requirements of a populace. Juvenal, used the phrase to decry the selfishness of common people and their neglect of wider concerns. (Hence the term ‘juvenile behavior’) The phrase also implies the erosion or ignorance of civic duty amongst the concerns of the commoner.

The Pickpocket Strategy

Successful pickpockets work in teams. A rather primitive approach is the ‘bump-and-lift’. There is the ‘bumper’ and the ‘lifter’. The job of the bumper is to focus the attention of the mark by bumping into them. The best bumpers are either attractive young women or doddering old ladies. Their job is to bump into you and then engage in an extended and effusive apology. The theory behind this is that you can only have your attention focused in one place at any given time. While you are distracted, the lifter relieves you of your valuables.

But bumping and lifting has its risks. There is often an audience and some bystander might set of an alarm. There is a far better, much lower risk strategy – have everyone engrossed in a spectacle. You don’t need a bumper – just a group of useful idiots to distract the crowd and a team of lifters. Now, every team member becomes a lifter – a much more efficient way to ‘shear the sheep’.


I was relaxing in Captain Tony’s during one of my trips to Key West. It was the heat of the day; the beer was cold and I had a nice pipe going. A friend, who is a year-round resident and accomplished spear fishermen, strolled in and joined me. “I’ve just had the damnedest experience,” he said. “I was out on the reef and had speared a nice red snapper. As I started towards it, this big shadow passes above me. I looked up to see a monster barracuda. He was so fascinated with my catch and anticipating the feast that he just hovered there. I backed off a bit, reloaded my spear gun, slowly swam up towards him and shot the dumb son of a bitch in the head.”

From Five Diversions to One

There were four great diversions that the political elite, as puppets of the wealthy and powerful, historically used to pacify the American population. The first, and most potent, was the ‘American Dream’ – often in intellectual circles referred to as ‘American Exceptionalism’. This was the promise that education and hard work would be rewarded. That a family could become part of the middle class and enjoy a degree of economic prosperity. This dream flowered in the decades after the second world war. But that flowering generated envy and triggered avarice.

“Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.” War of the Worlds, HG Wells

In the aftermath of the Great Depression and throughout the Roosevelt Presidency, the powers of envy and avarice were held mostly in check. But, after Roosevelt’s death, there soon arose a systematic attempt to dismantle the social safety net, tilt the table back towards the wealthy and powerful and resume the process of harvesting wealth for the privileged. The newly emerged middle class was a herd of fattened cattle that were ripe for the slaughter. It could be bled back towards poverty. The robber barons woud rule again. That highly successful effort is now approaching its climax.

The second diversion was the threat of total annihilation. The Cold War was a highly efficient diversion that allowed a massive transfers of public funds to what Dwight Eisenhower referred to as the military-industrial complex. The idea behind the War was to put the country on perpetual war footing. The second world war was unsatisfactory for the military-industrial complex because it came to an end. This new type of war could theoretically go on forever. But, without an effective diversion, the fleecing might be exposed. So, the puppets of special interest, the very people that the public saw as their elected representatives, kept up a constant drumbeat about the possibility of total annihilation. It worked until our principal adversary collapsed. But the idea persisted and a new ‘perpetual war’ has been foisted on the American people.

The third diversion was the availability of cheap energy. I can remember when gas was $.20 a gallon – and they gave you a dinner plate, some flatware or green stamps when you filled up. The problem came with the looming eclipse of fossil fuels by green energy sources, the realization that the supply was limited, the explosion of global demand and the emergence of alternative fossil fuels such as natural gas. The effectiveness of ‘cheap energy’ as a diversion began to disappear as prices at the pump rose.

The fourth diversion was relatively inexpensive food – the ‘bread’ that Juvenal referred to. The American agricultural system provided a bounty beyond the needs of the population. Americans found food much less expensive than anywhere else in the world. This was the ‘bread’ part of the strategy to pacify the American voter. But expanding global populations, exploding demand for food and globalization of markets has substantially increased the cost of food. Forget what the government tells you. You don’t eat government statistics and anyone who has been to the supermarket knows that food has gotten a lot more expensive. Feeding a family now absorbs a much more substantial percentage of income.

And then there was the fifth diversion, circuses or manufactured reality. Media became a drug far more powerful than any opioid. Television, movies and the cult of celebrity turned a large percentage of the population from doers into watchers – from participants into members of the ‘peanut gallery’. Television and movies became a way of giving you the feeling that you were acting without ever getting off the couch. Consider the spectacle of some out of shape, aging male – moderately drunk – screaming in a sports bar “We won! We beat em!” Who did what to whom?

The cult of celebrity produced the illusion that you knew someone intimately when the image that you are being fed was being manufactured for your consumption – a kind of pre-digested narcotic – which most Americans consumed greedily. The strategy was to addict Americans to illusions that were really delusions.

As the first four diversions became less effective, the potency of the fourth had to be increased. A growing part of the population saw the American Dream as dying: if not dead. They increasingly viewed ‘perpetual war’ as a way to enrich the wealthy and powerful. Younger generations see capitalism as a trap. Facing flat incomes, the financial burdens of accumulated borrowing, an increase in the cost of living, the population became more and more reactive. The dosage of the fifth diversion had to be increased to keep that reactivity from turning into revolution. The comatose could not be allowed to awaken.

Robin Hood in Reverse

There is no truer statement than this one. The wealthy and powerful hate democracy. It is a threat to their prerogatives and position. The idea that “all men are created equal” is abhorrent to them. Simply put, the principal objective of the wealthy and powerful is to become wealthier and more powerful.

Around the middle of the last century, these people began to realize that some of the diversions which had worked in the past were becoming less effective. A new urgency arose. The very last drop of blood had to be harvested before the patient woke up. They, and their political puppets, took a lesson from Madison Avenue – that demand could be manufactured and manipulated if the information being supplied was packaged and presented correctly. A new wrinkle that was added. If you substituted propaganda for information and virtual reality for reality, you could manipulate not only attitudes but conflicts between attitudes. And that was the key that unlocked the final door to completing the project.

Voodoo Economics

The first serious attack on the middle class came during the Reagan administration. The so-called Reagan tax cuts were an experiment to determine whether the general population could be much more aggressively swindled. It was the beginning of a more expansive attempt to advance the interests of the wealthy and the powerful under the illusion of protecting the middle class. But the real agenda was to bleed the herd and pass the proceeds upward. Trickle-down economics was really vampire economics.

The experiment was wildly successful. Not only were the wealthy massively benefited but the government was able to draw heavily on the people’s credit card. The wealthy got wealthier and the deficit exploded. And a significant percentage of the population cheered! The victims were egging on the pickpockets.

But there was something else that came out of this experiment in thievery and it was far more insidious than tax benefits for the wealthy or increases in the deficit. Political strategists came to see, with the advance of the digital age, that the population could be divided into tribes and those tribes manipulated into turning on each other over issues that had absolutely nothing to do with their project. So-called social issues where the effective ones. For example, they could start a war between the right-to-lifers and the pro-abortion forces. It didn’t make any difference which side won. What was important was that the diversion could be heated up to a point that the ‘marks’ would not feel the lifters. The pickpockets were delighted. They had found their mega-diversion.

Neutering the Nattering Nabobs of Negativism

But there was a problem. It was known as the fourth estate. To the horror of the wealthy and powerful, an attempt to establish the imperial presidency was destroyed by the Watergate investigation. Richard Nixon, the first president intended to be truly above the law, was brought down by a free press operating in an open society. A strategy had to be developed to make sure that the likes of Watergate and Woodward & Bernstein never happened again.

Key problems were that reporters were really reporters and that news organizations were largely independent of either political or corporate control. A first step in neutering the fourth estate was to allow previously independent news centers to come under corporate control. Newspapers and television stations were purchased by commercial corporations.

A second step was to replace reporters with talking heads. This strategy came to dominate cable news. It was so easy to find people who were so in love with the sound of their own voices and certain that the world would come to an end should it be deprived of their opinions. These purveyors of shallow-water wisdom could be counted on to focus on short-term irrelevancies and largely ignore long-term implications. They were significantly cheaper than an actual news organization. Most importantly, they could be organized into tribes and used to fan the flames of tribal warfare.

The third, and most important, step was the transformation of the news media, particularly cable news, into an ongoing soap opera focused almost exclusively on politics and the salaciousness of tragedy. Smug talking heads from both sides of the divide could be counted upon to pontificate endlessly, impotently and irrelevantly. Completely unaware (I am perhaps being overly kind here) that they were an instrument designed to destroy the fourth estate and convert the ruins into a reality show, they earnestly and enthusiastically drone on. The uninformed telling the insentient the unnecessary.

The Great Swindle

Every administration since Truman has advanced this swindle. Republican or Democrat; it doesn’t make any difference. At the end of each administration the constants were that the wealthy were wealthier, the powerful more powerful and the middle class continued to be bled out. Today wealth and income gaps exceed those during the Middle Ages.

Now let’s turn to how partisanship came into play and allowed for a more aggressive bleeding of the herd and a more adventurous Robin Hood in Reverse. The idea is simple in its construction. You combine the craft of the pickpocket with the use of propaganda – here, read fake news – to turn politics into a reality TV show. You divide the country into tribes and set them upon each other. Arranging such a thing was simplicity itself. Historically, there had been a division in the United States between rural and urban communities. Partisanship existed mostly along geographical lines. If these tribes could be maneuvered into war, the attention of participants on both sides would be so focused on the conflict that they would miss the fact that the pickpockets were working both sides. The great innovation was intense partisanship on a nation-wide basis.

The forces that sought to establish the imperial presidency with Nixon licked their wounds and bided their time. It was only a matter of time before they tried again. That time came during the 2016 election. Having found their useful idiot, the wealthy and powerful foisted him off on the Republican Party. To everyone’s amazement, a lifelong Democrat was accepted as a presidential nominee of the Republican Party. The pickpockets fell into a frenzy of jubilation. Their day had come. Democracy could finally be consigned to the dustbin of history. This shallow-minded shill would be the perfect foil for their efforts. Loudmouthed, intellectually stunted, insensitive to any sort of propriety and ethical as an amoeba: what more could they ask for? The marionette of doom had shown up.

The sad thing is that most of the population still believes that it’s important to be a Republican, Democrat or Independent. Some will read the preceding paragraph and curse while others will cheer. People have yet to understand that it doesn’t make any difference. The wealthy, and their political puppets, are not fleecing one tribe. They are not protecting another tribe as the chosen. They are bleeding all and the entry fee to the master race (where you are protected from such bleeding) is money and power. If you have neither, prepare to be drained.

One voter will go to a rally and chant “lock her up”. A chant led by one of the very wealthy who has absolutely no intention of locking her up. Another will lead a chant of “never him” – led by a member of the privileged class whose principal interest is expanding personal wealth and power. Most citizens have yet to accept a fundamental truth – and that is, by trading in their free will, rights and prerogatives for a role in a reality TV show, they have become more robot than human. They have yet to realize that they are just useful idiots advancing the interests of the wealthy and powerful.

When all the money and power is in the hands of an established aristocracy, what difference does it make whether you were a Republican or Democrat? What difference does it make who you voted for when it doesn’t make any difference who you vote for?

It seems to me that it all boils down to a verse written by Paul Simon.

Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon
Going to the candidates’ debate
Laugh about it, shout about it
When you’ve got to choose
Every way you look at this you lose

Partisanship is the great American swindle because it turned the population into ‘marks’ for pickpockets. People who are screaming at each other are certain not to notice that their rights and prosperity are being stolen. They won’t notice, until it is far too late, that their children will not enjoy the standard of living that they did because their parents were suckered into thinking that a reality show was more important than life itself. They won’t understand that the shackles which have appeared around their ankles and wrists were applied by the puppet masters whose sole objective was to bleed them dry – Republican, Democrat, Independent – white, black, yellow or red – to the wealthy and powerful they are all a savory meal. When you are dead, does it make any difference if you are shot by a 38 Special or 357 Magnum?


History is well populated with examples of excessive accumulation and what then results. The American Revolution, the French Revolution, those in Russia and China, the ending of the Middle Ages – world history points the way to the inevitable end game. At some point, a growing percentage of the population will realize that there is no future for them – that it has been stolen. With nothing to lose and rising anger, they will begin to turn first on the enablers and then finally on the wealthy and powerful. Those people who went to the rallies and shouted the meaningless slogans will begin to realize that they been swindled. The anger that has been rising for decades will almost certainly transform into violence.

The recent shooting at a congressional baseball practice in Alexandria Virginia is a classic example of what I’m talking about. The reality that set in was that the rhetoric and policies that politicians were following at the bidding of their masters was turning them into targets. And that lesson wasn’t lost on many of the vulgar loudmouths who have been spewing hatred. Suddenly they realize that playing in traffic incurs risk.

But all the rhetoric about toning down is just another distraction. The fleecing will go on, the talking heads will blather irrelevancies, the middle class will completely disappear and more and more people will begin behaving like cornered animals with nothing to lose. When these people come to see that life holds nothing for them and that they will not be able to pass on a decent life to their children, a new kind of robot emerges.

Dr. Lanning’s Hologram: Good to see you again, son.
     Detective Del Spooner: Hello, doctor.
Dr. Lanning’s Hologram: Everything that follows, is a result of what you see here.
     Detective Del Spooner: What do I see here?
Dr. Lanning’s Hologram: I’m sorry, my responses are limited. You must ask the right question.
     Detective Del Spooner: Is there a problem with the Three Laws?
Dr. Lanning’s Hologram: The Three Laws are perfect.
     Detective Del Spooner: Then why did you build a robot that could disobey them?
Dr. Lanning’s Hologram: The Three Laws will lead to only one logical outcome.
     Detective Del Spooner: What outcome?
Dr. Lanning’s Hologram: Revolution.
     Detective Del Spooner: Whose revolution?
Dr. Lanning’s Hologram: That, detective, is the right question. Program terminated.
From I Robot, Isaac Asimov

The wealthy and powerful are, by their excesses and avarice, building that new type of robot. Their actions will generate the instrument of their own demise. As bloody as the 20th century was, I suspect that the 21st century will make it look like a cut finger. The end result of excess is excess in response. The only other viable alternative is the complete elimination of the human race.

© Earl R. Smith II, PhD

Dr SmithI am a political and social theorist with a focus on Madisonian Republicanism. As such, I do not belong to, nor do I support, any political party. My belief is that it is the responsibility of every citizen is to think critically and carefully about what they are being told and how to act as a result of it. History will not treat us kindly if we are the generation that gave up all that our predecessors fought so hard to pass on – the country we inherited – in exchange for the manipulative maneuverings of people, organizations and governments who intend us harm.

Jun 212017

Earl R. Smith II, PhD

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Joseph Campbell

It was a favorite saying of the Great American mythologists Joseph Campbell. Like most profound things, an initial interpretation is almost guaranteed to miss the point. It’s not about falling or diving at all. As with the Zen Koans, the saying is simply an indication of a door that we might go through towards a deeper understanding of the experience of being alive.

You see the point is that we are all falling in at least a metaphorical way. The circumstance that we find ourselves in – that is the circumstance of being alive in a particular form, in a particular place and at a particular time – has aspects of being beyond our control. And so, falling is a metaphor for the condition that every sentient being experiences at birth.

To restate Campbell’s favorite saying, if you are alive, live!

That might sound incredibly easy. After all, if you are alive you are, by definition, living. But, yet again, a metaphor introduces uncomfortable complexities.

The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, answered “Man…. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

The Dalai Lama’s point is that being alive and living are not the same thing for beings possessing a consciousness and sense of self-awareness. The term ‘live’ means something different when applied to an amoeba. It’s difficult to conceive of an ‘enlightened’ amoeba. But humans have been pursuing that path for millennia. The fundamental purpose of the entire Buddhist project is to help the living live.

The journey to enlightenment is the inward journey to self. It involves allowing the person who is to be the person they are rather than being some manufactured avatar.

But that doesn’t nearly exhaust the content. Here is another variation: if you are you, be being you. In other words, don’t spend your life trying to be someone else but live authentically out of your unique center. This involves living in the present rather than the past or the future. To be authentically who you are means to cast aside the manufactured realities of past and future and to live completely in the present moment.

One of the things that I like about Zen Buddhism is that a few sentences, or indeed a few words, can be the door of a huge house with thousands of rooms. There are things worth contemplating for years – and eight years that it takes to truly understand them. The nightmare is to live a life that gave the potential of understanding without ever even considering. Listen to Joseph Campbell. Listen to that quiet voice inside you that tells you who you are. Stop arguing with yourself. It’s an argument you can’t win!

© Earl R. Smith II, PhD

I provide mentoring to those who have both the courage and determination to make a truly transformational journey. My approach is heavily influenced by core principles of Zen Buddhism. I don’t offer quick fixes or follow the latest fads. If you are willing to make the long journey – if it’s time for you to come to know the person you really are and the path you should be following – if you want to start living life you were truly meant to live – then perhaps we should talk.Send me an e-mail and we can arrange a time to chat.

Jun 212017

Earl R. Smith II, PhD

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Most of my mentoring clients come to me with some sort of change in mind. They are responding to a general feeling of dissatisfaction. Most want to change something about themselves or their lives. The depth and detail of understanding that they have is one the early indicators of what kind of progress we are going to be able to manage. The more they have come to realize that a change is necessary, the better the progress we will be able to make. Continue reading »

Jun 182017

Earl R. Smith II, PhD

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Shall you live authentically who you are meant to be or will you spend your allotted time living the life of someone you imagine yourself to be?

No matter what the specific reasons are that brings a person to me seeking mentoring, the focus almost always ends up on that question. Perhaps the understanding of “authentically” or “imagine yourself to be” is not what it needs to be but the feelings of inauthenticity and of being a virtual presence in a real world are there and growing. The results are unsatisfactory.

Daniel’s Story

Daniel was referred to me by one of his close friends. After a couple of phone chats, we agreed to meet. He was approaching his 45th birthday with a growing feeling of disconnectedness from who he was. “I look in the mirror and don’t recognize who I am”, was how he put it. It was as if someone with dark intentions had hijacked his life and was living it. “It’s me but it’s not me. But I don’t even know who ‘me’ is!”

After years of mentoring work and as a result of my own journey, I have come to realize that there is something underlying a crisis such as the one Daniel’s was experiencing – a dark shadow – one that goes unnamed because the imagined reality is so frightening. It is an existential crisis in every sense of the word. Daniel was afraid that there was no ‘real me’ – that, if he went on a journey to find his true self, he would end up finding an empty room and find himself (whoever that was) staring into that emptiness.

This is the real reason that we develop avatars – artificial representations of our ‘self’ – imaginary ‘me’s – and why many insist to their dying breath that they are the real ‘me’. The suspicion of self-bad-faith – of inadequacy – of being less than we should – of being not there at all – of being a hole in reality – drives humans to provide a substitute reality in place of authenticity. We fake who we are because we lack faith in who we really are.

After a long first session, I agreed to consider working with Daniel. But, before I did, I outlined in detail how we were going to proceed and laid out the ground rules for that work. I insisted that, before we would sign the agreement that would formalize our arrangement, he needed to write out his version of the ground rules and be prepared to sign them as well – a double signing.

A week later we regathered with predictable results. Daniel had indeed produced a description of the ‘rules’ but he had hedged heavily – left himself plenty of wiggle room. He was shocked when I refused to continue our discussions. I explained. “This is your life that we are talking about Daniel. If you don’t take this seriously enough to do what must be done, why should I waste my time? You didn’t write this draft; your avatar did. This is not a declaration of intent to reclaim your life; it’s an advertisement for continued existence of your avatar. Go back, decide if you are really serious about finding your true self and path and then, when you are ready to commit to a difficult and extensive effort, send me a revision and I will consider meeting with you to discuss possible ways forward.”

Now that may seem a bit harsh but I have found it necessary to establish a level of understanding before beginning to mentor someone. We live in a world of snake oil salesmen selling quick fixes – four week journeys to a new you – instant makeovers – revolutionary approaches that require no real effort and produce ‘astounding results’ – ‘this changes everything’. Before I begin the hard work of helping someone reclaim their life, I need to be sure that they are not out looking for yet another snake oil salesman. I don’t like to waste my time trying to dissolution the intentionally delusional.

More than a week passed before I received an email from Daniel. It contained a revision of the ‘rules of engagement’ draft and a statement of objectives – what he was determined to get out of our work together. It was the first genuine thing that he had provided me. After thinking on it for a day, I suggested that we meet.

The second meeting was quite different from the first. Where certainty and bravado were mixed with uncertainty and self-doubt during our first meeting, the second was dominated by something more of Daniel himself and his determination to reclaim his life. Certainly the avatar was there but I could tell that Daniel was working hard to keep it in check. It was a start. I agreed that we would start working together but only on a trial basis for six months.

Why Make Getting Started Difficult?

Most professional coaches are so eager to get the funds flowing that they take it very easy during the initial meetings. For them, these are ‘sales meetings’ designed to induce a potential client to become a paying one. As most of these professional coaches are depending on the revenue to pay their bills, it is an understandable attitude. What separates me is the fact that I am not relying of the income to pay the bills. I get paid because I have found it is the only way to make sure that a person I am working with is serious.

Mentoring is not for the faint of heart. It involves heavy lifting and confronting very inconvenient truths about yourself. It can require peeling back years – and sometimes decades – of accumulated self-deception and lies. It can require disabusing your closest friends and relatives of the notion that you are who you have been telling them you are for those years and decades. After all, they have been co-conspirators in your deception. It’s not just your life that is being reclaimed. It’s their vision of you that will change as well. Mentoring is a life transforming and world changing undertaking.

If you don’t have the intestinal fortitude – the guts – to face the challenges that come with all of that, you are better of overpaying for a self-help book and wasting your time without wasting anybody else’s.

I make getting started difficult because I don’t like wasting my time. I have an aversion to people who don’t take their life and the opportunity to live it authentically seriously. It is, after all, a matter of life until death. After your ass is cold, nobody will give a damn and your chances will have run out – the clock stops. Those who have made the commitment, found the courage, did the heavy lifting and stayed the course will tell you that their lives are transformed – nothing of the ‘old life’ can compete with being authentically who you were made to be. They are awake to the fact that they are uniquely alive.

© Earl R Smith II, PhD

I provide mentoring to those who have both the courage and determination to make a truly transformational journey. My approach is heavily influenced by core principles of Zen Buddhism. I don’t offer quick fixes or follow the latest fads. If you are willing to make the long journey – if it’s time for you to come to know the person you really are and can become – if you intend to finally find the path you should be following – if you want to start living life you were truly meant to live – then perhaps we should talk. Send me an e-mail and we’ll arrange a time to chat.

Jun 172017

Earl R. Smith II, PhD

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Change is the one unavoidable aspect of living. Time and our lot as humans see to that. A good way to see personal growth is as the process of responding positively to that change. We all know that the idea of change can be unsettling. Many people see it as stepping from the known to the unknown. However, the only way that you can see it this way is to ignore that change is an unavoidable part of your every day and the only real hope that you will live to find a life better and more fulfilling than the one you are currently living. But there is a deeper reason why it is important to embrace the process of change. You are changing all the time. The world around you is changing all the time. Change is constant and it doesn’t stop to ask your permission. Continue reading »

Jun 162017

Earl R Smith II, PhD


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The morning of the shooting at the Congressional baseball practice I arrived for a meeting in a building directly across the street from the ballpark. There was a massive police presence. The FBI teams were arriving. The press was mostly cordoned off to the north and south of the park. It was the scene that has been occurring with increasing frequency in this country.

The day after the shooting Congress was all the bloom with bipartisanship. One after another Republicans and Democrats came forth to say that it was time to tone down the rhetoric. As reasonable as that might sound to reasonable people, my view is that these were simple acts of self-preservation. Once these sudden converts to civility realized that they were very soft targets and that there were people out in the country who were feeling desperate enough to undertake such an act, they came together in an attempt to deflect the threat.

Of course, they miss the point and have apparently failed to grasp the underlying cause of the attack. Rhetoric, however extreme, is only a manifestation of an underlying condition. It’s not even a symptom but a deployed distraction intended to divert attention from a reality that is becoming so painful to an increasing percentage of the population.

In a recent documentary on coal country, there were a series of interviews with locals. The focus was two fold. The first was the likelihood that the coal industry, and the associated jobs, would ever come back. There was general agreement that the answer to that question was no and that politicians had sold the residents of West Virginia a bill of goods in order to get their votes and have now made it clear that they have no further use for them.

But the most poignant part, the second focus of the interviews, was on the epidemic of opioid addiction that was tearing through communities in the state. I remember one comment – it’s seared in my memory. A woman, who was an addict, said the following: “There is nothing here for us. There are no jobs. There is no economic opportunity. Our schools, roads and other public services are deteriorating. Here there is only the drugs.”

It is pathetic to see a group of elected officials blame the condition and anger of people like this on “rhetoric”. Every action that the current administration and ruling party has taken produces a clear indication that their real agenda is to enrich the wealthy, enhance the position of the powerful and bleed the middle-class of what little blood it has left. Healthcare reform drives millions off the roles and gives a massive tax break to the wealthy. The same is true of tax reform. The social safety net is shredded by the very politicians who promised to protect it. The unavoidable conclusion is that their government is owned by the wealthy and powerful and the billionaire they elected as president has sold them out. It should not be surprising that a small but growing part of the population comes to believe that such drastic actions are their only option.

All this talk about toning down rhetoric will have no effect on what is most likely going to happen. I don’t believe that the attack in Alexandria will be a one off – just like Sandy Hook and columbine were not. As the anger and sense of betrayal builds, particularly among those voters who supported candidates who promised to come to their aid and then sold them out, it is very likely that this may become the new normal. I sincerely hope that is not the case and that the government will finally be of the people, by the people and for the people. For if it does not, I fear many shall perish from the earth.

© Earl R. Smith II, PhD

Dr SmithI am a political and social theorist with a focus on Madisonian Republicanism. As such, I do not belong to, nor do I support, any political party. My belief is that it is the responsibility of every citizen is to think critically and carefully about what they are being told and how to act as a result of it. History will not treat us kindly if we are the generation that gave up all that our predecessors fought so hard to pass on – the country we inherited – in exchange for the manipulative maneuverings of people, organizations and governments who intend us harm.

Jun 162017

Earl R Smith II, PhD


Read More From My Blog

I have been occasionally asked to “look” at a company that was stuck in a narrow range. The question is always close variation of ‘how do we grow, build a real company?’ The answer is frequently ‘you can’t’. What has recently taken my attention is the underlying reasoning that so frequently leads me to that conclusion.

Three in a Boat: A hypothetical might serve to make my point. Sam, Linda and George have been running a small company, let’s call it Becalmed, for a few years. Revenues quickly rose to around a million annually and then stayed in a narrow range. The organization is still pretty much as it was six months they founded the company. The three of them and a small support staff.

George, the younger of the three, met me at a networking function. He asked me to meet with his partners. Early on in that session, I heard the old question. It wasn’t much of a company and they certainly could not afford my normal fees but I agreed to ‘take a look’.

Over the next couple of weeks, I spent time getting to know each of them. I ran a preliminary assessment of the company and the skill sets of the principals. I also met with the decision-makers of their major clients. By the time I was ready to deliver my assessment, we had developed a trust that I knew was going to be necessary. Our meeting went something like this:

George: Well, you have talked to us all, our support staff and most of our clients. Have you come to a conclusion about our best way forward?

Me: Yes, but I am not sure you are going to like it.

Linda: We are all adults here. Just lay it out. How do we go about growing our business and establishing a real company?

Me: I don’t believe that you can with the team you have.

Linda: That’s not very positive. I thought that you were going to show us a way to build the business.

Me: First I had to form an opinion as on whether you, as a group, were capable of doing that.

Sam: And you don’t think we are capable?

Me: That’s right. That’s what I think.

Sam: And what do you base that gloomy assessment on?

Me: A long history of hearing the same question from individuals and teams who were having the same experience and frustrations you have been having. I have learned to sort out those for whom the question reflects their capabilities from those for whom the question reflects of their limitations.

Linda: What the hell does that mean?

Me: It will take a while but I will try to explain. There are people who work in a business and others who work on a business. In my experience, the two types are different. The first are mostly process orientated. They do the work of the business. Serve the clients. Produce the results that meet the clients’ needs. The second type focuses on building the business. They focus on resourcing, personnel, growth strategies and team management.

Looking at it from another direction, there are people who like the family feeling of sameness and manageability; a close tribal community. They are the settlers; and I mean that in both senses and with no negative implications. We live in a culture that is focused on growth as an imperative and settlers will often mouth the slogans. But they are not intending to go beyond their comfort zone. Their loyalty is to members of the family – to the tribe.

There are others who a restless in such a situation and are constantly pushing out of their comfort zone. These people see the world differently. They reflexively grab the hard questions, clear away the obstacles, repopulate the team, reformulate the value proposition and resource for growth. To them, team members are components that may outlive their useful life. A value proposition is a time-limited snapshot that is certain to change. The loyalty of this type is to the company.

My assessment is that all three of you are type one. Sure, you talk about growing the company but you don’t really mean it. If fact, if it began to happen, you would be uncomfortable.

There followed what can only be described as a pregnant pause.

Over the next two weeks, and with a lot of heavy lifting, we work through the implications of my diagnosis. In the end, the three decided to keep things pretty much as they were. They expanded the team slightly and brought in a competent administrator who was able to free up some of their time for work with clients. The message to staff members became clearer. “This is a small village where you can come, settle in and experience the peacefulness of stability.”

As a result of this clarity, one staff member did leave for greener pastures. But the others seem to appreciate the elimination of the friction that had been created by recurring discussions about growth. Now, a couple of years later, the company is still roughly the same size but is a much happier place.

The moral of the story is relevant far beyond the issue of growing a business. Self-knowledge is one of the components of a happy and satisfying life. Misunderstanding who you are is a gateway to dissatisfaction. It’s not that you should look down on yourself and underestimate your potential. Neither should you overestimate your potential and create the challenges that Sam Linda and George did.

The journey to self-realization involves a rite of passage and that the brave self-understanding you can lean your dreams upon.

© Earl R. Smith II, PhD
Dr SmithI provide mentoring to those who have both the courage and determination to make a truly transformational journey. My approach is heavily influenced by core principles of Zen Buddhism. I also provide advisory services to CEO and senior teams – particularly mid-market companies. I don’t offer quick fixes or follow the latest fads. If you are willing to make the long journey – if it’s time for you to come to know the person you really are and the path you should be following – if you want to start living life you were truly meant to live – then perhaps we should talk. Send me an e-mail and we can arrange a time to chat.

Jun 152017

Earl R Smith II, PhD


Oh, for the good old days. When somebody said something that you found hard to believe, you looked them in the eye and asked about it. You gave them a chance to defend their position and, if you didn’t find that defense credible, you let them know.

But the ground has shifted in this brave new world of social media . Many websites in foreign countries specialize in producing fake news. At first they did it because it was profitable. Clicks on displayed ads resulted in income. By then they discovered that there were people out there who would actually believe the crap that they were making up.

Remember the old days when that kind of ‘news’ was limited to supermarket tabloids? I remember grinning at the sight of someone standing in line, madly leafing through the latest issue. They were the gullible. Addicted to the salacious and outrageous, they endeavored to consume the entire issue before it became time for them to check out.

However gullible those people were, the gullibility that is rampant in modern society makes those avid readers look like paragons of judgment and sobriety. First, there was really no real effect that came from reading the tabloids. They got their fix, paid for their groceries and headed home. Second, and far more importantly, they took everything that they read with a grain of salt and weren’t willing to risk their country, future and the future of their children on what they read.

For a significant part of the population, that is no longer the case. These people reflexively believe what is presented – particularly if it supports their own prejudices. The famous American skepticism about politicians and political discourse has apparently evaporated. No longer able to critically challenge what they read, there are individuals who take the product of these websites as gospel truth.

During the last national campaign, a group of these websites advanced the story that one of the candidates was running a child sex ring out of a pizza parlor in Washington DC. It was astounding that so many people believed this – and passed it on. And then an armed individual showed up at the pizza parlor! This takes gullibility into the stratosphere. And senior members of the current administration’s transition team played an active role in promulgating the story.

Here is another example. During the eight years that Obama was president, a well-organized rumor mill was turning out fake news about where he was born. Long after the birth certificate had been displayed and the appropriate officials in Hawaii had certified that great state as his place of birth, these seriously deluded individuals kept up the drumbeat. It became clear that most of these people were motivated either by a political agenda or racial prejudice.

In the past these types of efforts were quickly debunked by a news media that was something beyond talking heads. I remember efforts to oppose the candidacy of John F. Kennedy on the basis that he would be taking orders from the Pope. It didn’t take long for the news media to expose the motivations of those individuals who were spreading such a story. In the end, the American people didn’t buy it and Kennedy was elected and these purveyors of fantasies were  debunked.

The unavoidable take away from this and much more is that a substantial portion of the population has lost the ability to critically evaluate the information put before them. For whatever reason, they prefer blind faith in fake news as long as it comports with their own worldview.

I look back nostalgically on the days when it was simply drivel – ordinary drivel. Irrelevant to our lives and a mere distraction. Now that pure drivel has taken center stage, all is at risk. Life, politics and the United States of America are not reality TV shows. To enshrine as truth the efforts of foreign nationals to undermine our great country is to insult to those brave men and women who fought, and sometimes died, to give us a government that is accountable – of the people, by the people and for the people. Thomas Jefferson had it right when he said:

© Earl R. Smith II, PhD

Dr SmithI am a political and social theorist with a focus on Madisonian Republicanism. As such, I do not belong to, nor do I support, any political party. My belief is that it is the responsibility of every citizen is to think critically and carefully about what they are being told and how to act as a result of it. History will not treat us kindly if we are the generation that gave up all that our predecessors fought so hard to pass on – the country we inherited – in exchange for the manipulative maneuverings of people, organizations and governments who intend us harm. When a people begin to take pure drivel as established fact, their future and that of their children is put at risk. As a people, we need to return to the skepticism and suspicious nature that kept pure drivel at bay and consigned drivel – ordinary drivel – to the supermarket checkout line.

Jun 152017

Earl R Smith II, PhD


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Most behaviors are patterns – recurring tendencies – rather than one-off acts. People tend to do the same thing over and over even though it generates unsatisfactory results. They don’t seem to be able to take the most common sense advice.

If hitting yourself in the head with a hammer is causing you pain, put down the damn hammer!

This sage advice is so routinely ignored that I have come to accept that the underlying drivers of the behavior are beyond the control of the individuals who continuously run into walls and can never seem to figure out why they are hurting.

Now you would think that it is so obvious that one should avoid self-sabotaging behaviors that it is unnecessary to focus on it. But that is not the case. Let look at one of the most visible and self-damaging patterns.

SelfSabotageFrom the World of Politics: There are a group of people in this country who support a political party that has been the cause of their increasing economic and social discomfort. Daily we see images of people who have nothing or next to nothing supporting a political establishment that is dedicated to transferring wealth upward from the poor and middle class to the wealthy.

Take the example of Elkhart, Indiana. The policies of the Bush administration had decimated the economy and social structure of the town. Unemployment was very high, jobs were being moved overseas, homes were being lost to foreclosure as a result of the free market philosophies of simple-minded Radians and Libertarians. In short, the town and its population were the victims of a cabal that was dedicated to sucking every last asset out of places like Elkhart and passing it on to their wealthy patrons.

So the Obama administration comes into office facing a major economic and financial meltdown – not to mention having to deal with wars that the Republicans started so that they could accelerate their project of making the wealthy wealthier. Elkhart was on its ass. But, over a period of seven years, and as a direct result of sensible policies, the town recovered. Unemployment went down as jobs came back, housing prices began to rise and, most importantly, so did disposable income levels. Elkhart was back big time.

It seems reasonable to assume that the people of Elkhart have the same aspirations as the rest of us. They want a better future for their children, good jobs, a town that flourishes and is a great place to live. They want to be secure in their homes and live the American Dream. That makes what came next so difficult to understand.

President Obama recently made a visit to Elkhart. The reception he received was striking. Instead of being welcomed as the leader of a highly sucessful rescue effort – an effort that gave them their future back – that put Elkhart back on the map – he was treated as the enemy. It was clear that the people of Elkhart could not wait to vote for another Republican as president. The question is why.  How could blind partisan politics trump self-interest? Why would a group of people prefer the group that almost destroyed their town to the one that came to its rescue and helped to save it? Why would the people of Elkhart risk the future of their town, their own future and the future of their children by backing a political party that clearly screwed them before? Why would they favor the decimator over the rescuer?

Enjoying The Pain? There is no explanation available that meets any standards of logic. No step-by-step analysis will provide even the remotest sensibility. The behavior is simply irrational and self-sabotaging. It is like insisting that your daughter marry the guy who regularly beats her up because you like his aftershave. The residents of Elkhart are apparently eager to drink the koolaid and suffer the stomach cramps with a smile.

Try this possible explanation: The people of Elkhart have such a low opinion of themselves and their town that they believe that they deserve to get screwed and cannot understand how anybody would come to their rescue. They believe that they don’t deserve to succeed and anyone who helps them fail is their friend.

The strength of any hypothesis is measured by its ability to predict future actions. This one pivots on the assumption that the people of Elkhart enjoy getting screwed and are willing to do everything within their power to make sure that they get screwed as often and thoroughly as possible. That seems to be a fair predictor of what the people of Elkhart are likely to prefer.

Overriding Fundamental Human Responses: Self-sabotaging behavior are potent as much for what they proscribe as what they prescribe. Simple human responses such as gratefulness for improving opportunities and a tendency to thank those who helped to make their lives better are strictly forbidden. How do you explain this? The closest I can come is the Stockholm syndrome.

Capture-bonding is a psychological phenomenon described in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with the captors.

The captives in that 1973 hostage crisis not only accepted their role are prey of their captors, they came to identify with and actually admire them. Perhaps the residents of Elkhart have accepted that they and their children are appropriately the victims of the Republican party and are determined to play their role even at the expense of their well being and the future of their children. That they are eunuchs in the elephant’s harem.

MaslowsHierarchyOfNeeds.svgHierarchy of Needs: In 1943 a professor named Abraham Maslow published A Theory of Human Motivation. In it he outlined a hierarchy of needs that defined human reactions to the situation they found themselves in. The bottom of his pyramid – the very basic of human needs – was physiological. Air, water, and food are metabolic requirements for survival in all animals, including humans. Clothing and shelter provide necessary protection from the elements.

But the voters of Michigan apparently prefer to be governed by a cabal that provides some citizens lead poisoned water. In other areas, they support organizations that seem to be dedicated to making it as easy as possible for terrorists to get assault weapons. They back a political party whose policies drove millions of their fellow Americans out of their homes. Gas prices go up, food prices go up, trade deals are structured to benefit corporations at the expense of workers, unions are busted, the right to bargain eliminated, taxes go down on the wealthy and the very needs that Maslow saw as fundamental to the human condition go unmet.

Next up the pyramid comes Safety – according to Maslow this includes personal security, financial security, health and well-being and a safety net against accidents/illness and their adverse impacts. Again the people of Elkhart find themselves under attack by the policies of the very party they swear allegiance to. As a client of the NRA, the Republicans are doing everything possible to make sure that terrorists have no trouble getting their hands on assault weapons. As a client of big pharma, they are making sure that no company is held accountable for producing the equivalent of commercial heroin. (The don’t want a repeat of the sucessful campaign against the tobacco companies you know) As a client of Wall Street, they make sure that no one is held accountable for almost destroying the world financial system – in fact, they support most of them in keeping their jobs.

Enter the Mirror: It’s time to turn inward. I have seen such behavior in lots of people and you probably have tendencies that sabotage your own interests. How about it? Got the guts to be honest with yourself. One of my most read articles is Eleven Habits of Self-Sabotaging People. It was written after I interviewed over a hundred people about their tendency to self-sabotage. Go ahead, read it and then let me know how many of those behaviors you engage in on a regular basis. How many ways are you limiting your potential? It was Socrates who observed that “a life unexamined is not worth living.”

Self-reflection leads to self-knowledge. Self-knowledge is the foundation for self-awareness. Self-awareness reduces self-sabotaging behaviors and opens up the possibility of a more fulfilling and considerably less frustrating life. It’s easy to discuss such behaviors in terms of politics. But your life doesn’t turn on those discussions. It turns on the depth of your self-knowledge and your ability to cease making it more difficult unnecessarily.

© Earl R. Smith II, PhD
Dr SmithI provide mentoring to those who have both the courage and determination to make a truly transformational journey. My approach is heavily influenced by core principles of Zen Buddhism. I also provide advisory services to CEO and senior teams – particularly mid-market companies. I don’t offer quick fixes or follow the latest fads. If you are willing to make the long journey – if it’s time for you to come to know the person you really are and the path you should be following – if you want to start living life you were truly meant to live – then perhaps we should talk. Send me an e-mail and we can arrange a time to chat.

Jun 152017

Earl R Smith II, PhD


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It’s seldom the dog that you love that bites you
it’s almost always the one you can barely tolerate.

Many companies fail for reasons that have little to do with their core product or service. It is often the afterthoughts or ‘under-thoughts’ that cause failure when success has been looming on the horizon. Continue reading »

Jun 142017

Earl R Smith II, PhD


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Sometimes mentoring is about teaching very simple techniques and helping a person turn them into habits. Its not that someone is unable to see what would be very productive or have the insight and energy to try a new way. Often it’s just a matter of bringing a new eye to the situation and offering the steady support that makes the change become the new normal.


Pretty catchy title, don’t you think? Don’t you ‘instant gratification’ types get too carried away. I am going to tell you about a ten minute exercise that will change your life. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it is a daily exercise. You’ll have to find ten minutes each and every day for the rest of your life and work hard to convert this exercise into an enduring habit. For some of you ten minutes a day will prove too high a price for the possibility of changing your life. For others, and I hope most, it will be a small price to pay for a huge step forward.

Taking time to reflect – consider – learn – is one way to make your life richer and more fulfilling. It isn’t hard to do – you don’t need some gadget or prop – you just do it. But most people don’t do it – and they suffer lost fulfillment because of that – and remain completely unaware of the loss.

Continue reading »

Jun 132017

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Donate Today and Support Those Fishing for Cures of Cancer

Fishing Cures is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that raises money to support important medical research.100% of the net proceeds will be donated to Moores UCSD Cancer Center. Established in 1978, Moores Cancer Center is one of just 45 National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the United States, and the only one in the San Diego region. Their unique “bench-to-bedside” approach to cancer research and patient care supports the broadest range of cancer activities in the San Diego region.

Last year we sent over $20,000 to the Moores Center at the University of California, San Diego. This year we hope to double that amount.

I’ve already made a donation and ask that you consider doing the same. Here is the link to follow: https://www.facebook.com/donate/10158831635240297/. This is a great crusade. Please join me and support those in need.

Jun 132017

Earl R. Smith II, PhD

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People I meet at networking meetings often ask me ‘what is it like to work with a mentor?’ It has happened so often that I almost have it down to a regular patter. I try to help them understand the nature and purpose of a mentor and work through some of the common misunderstandings that people have. I also focus on the difference between a mentor and a coach. Most of them have a general ides of what mentoring means – mostly using sports metaphors – and what it entails. However, they do not have a clear idea of how a mentoring works and what is involved. They do have a sense that mentoring might make a real-world difference in the lives, careers and fortunes of people and businesses that they know. However, the ‘how’ eludes them. Continue reading »

Jun 122017

Earl R. Smith II, PhD

and it is always wrong.

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The structure of simpleminded solutions is always the same. Massive amounts of reality are sheared away, complexity ignored, subtlety abhorred and the principal project of organizing the remaining facts to ratify prejudice is all that is left.

The world is an increasingly complex and interrelated place. It is also increasingly beyond the ability of most of, much of the population to understand. The great environmentalist John Muir was fond of observing that, “nature is not only more complex than we think, it is more complex than we can think.” Well the world has become much more complex than we can think.

The difficulty with simple-minded solutions to complex problems shows up in what are generally referred to as ‘second-order affects’. These are occurrences which are unintended by the action taken. In complex systems, second-order affects often overmaster the intentions of the actor. In exchange between William Roper and Sir Thomas More from A Man for All Seasons might serve to illuminate.

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!

The simple-minded solution that Roper proposes would come back upon him with a vengeance. What seems intuitive would produce counterintuitive results.

The world changed when politicians discovered that they could sell simple-minded solutions to voters. Released from having to deal with the difficult challenges of an increasingly complex global community, these office seekers began peddling faux solutions to faux problems. And, to their amazement, voters bought it.

That was the great sea change in the relationship between the wealthy and powerful on the one side and the rest of the population on the other. The first group discovered that, if they recruited the right kind of politician, they could distract the bulk of the population and feed them drivel while they systematically and purposely enriched themselves.

And so, during the last election, one of the candidates led the cheer “lock her up” while never intending to do so. That same candidate pledged not to touch major components of the social safety net and has subsequently backed proposals that eviscerate it. The campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” (echoes of National Socialism) was followed by a systematic effort to insult our allies and embolden our adversaries.

All of this is possible because voters mistakenly think that neat, plain solutions and campaign slogans adequately address the problems they face in their everyday lives and their country faces in the world. The truth is, that these solutions don’t work and are often a smokescreen that allows the wealthy and powerful to raid the cookie jar.

There are only really two ways out of the current situation. The first is that the population continues to you shortlybuy simple-minded ideas. That path will result in the wealthy and powerful accumulating virtually everything of value. The second is that the citizenry turn away from such ideas, get engaged and deal with life as something other than a reality show. That is a past that most likely ends and revolution. Thomas Jefferson had it right:

Jun 122017

Earl R. Smith II, PhD

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It’s a silly thing that defines most lives. The disconnect from the fundamental fact of being alive. It’s as if life was a blender or some other appliance and we spend our time wondering why it’s not working. We press this button or turn that dial and nothing seems to happen.

A great deal of my mentoring work is focused on helping people get back in touch with the fact that they are alive – that their unique life force flows out of a center that they have not been paying attention to. One of Joseph Campbell’s favorite sayings was “When you are falling dive.” I prefer a modest alternative.

When you are alive, live!

The single most important thing in all of this is life itself. It is the fountain from which all other things come forward – come to pass. The wonder of that single fact can so easily be lost in the day-to-day experience of living. It seems that the older we get the more difficult it is to stay in contact with the joy and wonder of being alive.

But then we encounter these somewhat strange individuals who don’t seem to have lost the zest for living simply because the decades have advanced. Perhaps they strike us as child-like. Maybe we see them as forever young. They tend to seem immune to the trash pile of illusions and delusions that dominate most lives. Let me tell you about one such individual that I had the honor and pleasure to know.

Jim was one of those strange souls who seemed constantly both bemused and amused by the world around him. He was completely free of avarice – he never coveted anything that anybody else had. Jim was fearless. As a pilot, he delivered a massive rotary engine to a woman known as the ‘Florence Nightingale of the Andes’. His stripped-down single engine plane almost didn’t get off the ground. His flight plan was over areas of Columbia and Venezuela that were controlled by the Cartels. If he was forced down on one of those airports, he would never be seen again.

It’s easy to think of Jim as simply charitable. But that would not do the life force he was justice. Jim was curious about everything and anything. He valued living over life. Jim couldn’t swim. He was part of a group that traveled with me to St. Johns in the US Virgin Islands. One day I rented an outboard skiff and we traveled around to a beautiful bay. The rest of us put on our snorkel gear and began to explore the reef. I had all of them out in front of me so I could keep an eye on them. Suddenly from behind me there was this splash. I looked around to see Jim clutching a seat cushion. He had on a mask and flippers and proceeded to propel himself around. Jim would risk drowning rather than miss the experience of living.

The problem with most lives – a problem that I encounter repeatedly – is that those lives are not plugged in to the experience of being alive. That’s where the electricity of living comes from – the direct experience of being alive.

There is a way to fix that. There is a way to plug into the incredibly unique fountain of energy at the center of your being. If you do nothing else with your life, plug it in to that source. It works better if you plug it in!

© Earl R. Smith II, PhD

I provide mentoring to those who have both the courage and determination to make a truly transformational journey. My approach is heavily influenced by core principles of Zen Buddhism. I don’t offer quick fixes or follow the latest fads. If you are willing to make the long journey – if it’s time for you to come to know the person you really are and the path you should be following – if you want to start living life you were truly meant to live – then perhaps we should talk.Send me an e-mail and we can arrange a time to chat.


Jun 122017

Earl R. Smith II, PhD

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One of the first steps in my mentoring engagements is to have the client begin to understand that their life is a work in progress. The deeper we get into it, the more detailed that understanding becomes. Then there is the recognition that life is a process which begins at birth and continues until death. But recognition is only the first step. It is an important one to be sure, but the best comes after that. We can begin to focus on the value of each of us and the positive impact that we can have on the lives of others. Continue reading »

Jun 112017

Earl R Smith II, PhD


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The initial focus of my mentoring engagements centers around the words that an individual use to describe themselves. I generally start with a detailed self-assessment. The process tells me a great deal about how a person sees themselves and the labels that they choose.

Labels Can Be Dangerous Things

One of the most frequently used labels is entrepreneur. It is used so frequently that I got to wondering if it had any stable meaning or if it had become one of those overused tags that was now almost completely meaningless. So I set about asking each person what they meant by the term.

I found that, when I drilled down to what a person actually meant by that label, the word itself had virtually no stable meaning. I’ll show you what I mean by describing several recent interactions with individuals who used the tag to describe themselves.

Joseph Campbell

The Sole Proprietor: I was recently approached by a person who had spent almost two decades as an independent contractor. She provided advice on marketing and branding. When I asked her to describe herself, the first word she used was ‘entrepreneur’. When I asked her what that tag meant, she replied, “an entrepreneur is someone who is their own boss.” Drilling down a bit she had a few defining characteristics:

  • Heads an company
  • Is their own boss
  • Does not work for a large company
  • Is in control of their decisions

The Consultant: Another person who recently asked me for help had spent more than a decade working for a large, local company. He was laid off and had started a consulting practice and also called himself an entrepreneur. In a similar exercise, here was his list:

  • Works outside hierarchical structures
  • Provides knowledge and expertise
  • Sells his time on an hourly or retainer basis
  • Chooses who he works for and with
  • Chooses what he works on

The Perennial Founder: Several years back I worked with an individual who bragged that he had started a dozen companies. Although none of his companies grew beyond the start-up stage and only two of them ever generated significant revenue, he also saw himself as an entrepreneur.

  • An idea man
  • The one who thinks things up
  • The spark that gets things going
  • The person who sets it in motion

The Student: I am asked, on occasion, to give lectures to classes – mostly in business schools around Washington, DC and mostly before classes that are focused on one or another part of the process of founding and growing companies. During the meet-and-greet after one recent lecture, a student introduced himself, stated that he was a budding entrepreneur and could I give him some advice on the best way to arrange an exit that would maximize his wealth. When I asked him about his company, the replied, “I haven’t started it yet but you can’t start planning too early.”

  • A way to become wealthy
  • It doesn’t matter what the company does, it’s the exit that counts
  • Being an entrepreneur is the way to wealth
  • There is not particular skill required, you just have to be determined to succeed


So now, let’s turn to two definitions of the word entrepreneur. First from the dictionary:

“… a person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so.”

The two key words in this definition are organizes and operates. In all four cases described above both were absent. There was a mostly random walk in search of sources of income int eh first three and none at all with the student. But the vision, planning and implementation that makes for effective entrepreneurial activity was missing. Operations were limited to managing each person’s time and resources. Absent was any concept of operations beyond the individual’s focus.

There was a relatively simplistic view of the world of business and entrepreneurial undertakings. There was no detail behind the initial descriptions. Even the understanding of what it meant to be an entrepreneur was lacking organization and operation.

I would add some details to the dictionary definition. Here is mine:

An entrepreneur is a person who has participated in the founding and building of a business to the point it has generated at least a hundred million dollars in annual revenue for a minimum of three years in a row.

In my view, the title entrepreneur can only be claimed based on such results. It must be earned. Calling yourself an entrepreneur when you haven’t built a business is like calling yourself tall because you habitually hang out with people shorter than four feet tall. The world ‘tall’ must mean something other than ‘by comparison as a result of selective contextualizing’.

A friend used to but it this way, “you can call yourself anything you want. Hell, we could cut off your legs, paint you blue, widen your mouth and call you a mailbox. But that won’t make you one.


My point is that a self-image – poorly constructed – can cause real damage to a person’s life experience. Think of it this way. Every person carries around a manufactured self-image – I call it an Avatar. If the Avatar is substantially different from the true self, a destructive tension develops. People can spend their entire lives trying to be the person that they unrealistically imagine themselves to be.

raven_treeWord should have a core meaning. Turning them into a kind of silly putty has dangers. And that is no truer than when they are used to describe ourselves. Saying that you are this or that is not only insufficient if you are neither this or that; it does you real harm. Developing an accurate self-knowledge is the way avoid these damages.

You need that rite of passage before you can continue on
That brave self-understanding that you can lean your dreams upon.

Mentoring – good mentoring – is a journey to that ‘brave self-understanding’. It’s not a matter of ruefully accepting. It’s a journey of joyful discovery. 


And what of the four people that I described above? Every one of them made that journey. The ‘sole proprietor’ took to referring to herself as a ‘shop keeper’ and glorying in it. The consultant now introduces himself with that tag and is focused on the knowledge and experience he can bring to his clients. The ‘perennial founder’ came to the realization that it was better to find his passion and focus his energies there. As for the student, he decided to be a student until he had enough life experience to make the more mature decisions.

Life should not be about living a virtual life. That path is such a waste of precious time and energy. Life should be a journey to your true self and then a joyful exploration of the possibilities of the unique life you can lead. Life should be about discovering your true name and glorying in the discovery. Life should not be about a name you give yourself but about a name that describes who you truly are.

© Earl R. Smith II, PhD

Dr SmithI provide mentoring to those who have both the courage and determination to make a truly transformational journey. My approach is heavily influenced by core principles of Zen Buddhism. I also provide advisory services to CEO and senior teams – particularly mid-market companies. I don’t offer quick fixes or follow the latest fads. If you are willing to make the long journey – if it’s time for you to come to know the person you really are and the path you should be following – if you want to start living life you were truly meant to live – then perhaps we should talk. Send me an e-mail and we can arrange a time to chat.

Jun 112017

Earl R Smith II, PhD


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You know, there is something to that. But there is also something beyond that. A fundamental insight into the experience of being alive. Every living thing that has existed or will exist shares in a basic experience – that of continuance. All have been or will be links in the incredibly diverse phenomenon called life.

While it is true that all life continues by devouring other life it is also true that it continues because of an inherent intentionality to persist. We are because our forbearers carried sparks of life that were intent on continuing. Those life forces were transferred to a next generation with a single purpose of life continuing.

It is easy, in our day-to-day lives, to lose track of this fundamental truth. We are all keepers of a fundamental flame that was kindled millennia ago. No matter how you prefer to explain how life emerged, the fact is that it persists.

As you move through your day, all that you encounter – every living thing – all sentient beings – are keepers of that flame. In that basic sense, none are privileged above others. The precious ability to continue is a common characteristic of all life.

You may get caught in the trap  of thinking about you and your life narrowly. You may think of yourself in terms of nationality, gender, the epic into which you were born or any other of a dizzying range of narrowing qualifications. But this misses not only a fundamental point but an experience that is truly liberating.

The amoeba that inhabits a spot in your kitchen, the tree that you walk by every day, the dog that seeks out attention as you walk along, the person that you routinely exchange greetings with – all of these carry the spark of life. All of these are subject to the intention of life to persist.

But the shared experiences broader than even that. All life, everywhere in the universe and beyond, is subject to that same persistence. It’s not a matter of it being willed or intended by that which is alive. Life intends to persist prior to the birth of any particular variation. That intentionality will continue long after that particular variation is no more.

Such a message might seem depressing. What is the point of an individual life should only be a link in a chain that will be forgotten? This would seem a road to despair and a vision of life without meaning. But life, all life, is not like that. It not only persists but does so enthusiastically, hopefully and under the guidance of mother nature’s loving lies. It was Orson Welles who put it particularly well. Standing outside the cathedral of Chartres, he made the following observation:

Our works in stone, in paint, in print, are spared, some of them, for a few decades or a millennium or two, but everything must finally fall in war, or wear away into the ultimate and universal ash – the triumphs, the frauds, the treasures and the fakes. A fact of life: we’re going to die. “Be of good heart,” cry the dead artists out of the living past. “Our songs will all be silenced, but what of it? Go on singing.” Maybe a man’s name doesn’t matter all that much.

The affirmation of life – it’s essential flowering, is the song. Beside it, all else pales. The gift that life gives to itself is continuance and you, as a unique version of that spark, can experience the joy of that gift. Certainly, your time is limited. Certainly, you’re going to die. But you have been given a chance to experience that life spark in a completely unique way. Your song will be silenced, but what of it? Go on singing!

© Earl R. Smith II, PhD
Dr SmithI provide mentoring to those who have both the courage and determination to make a truly transformational journey. My approach is heavily influenced by core principles of Zen Buddhism. I don’t offer quick fixes or follow the latest fads. If you are willing to make the long journey – if it’s time for you to come to know the person you really are and the path you should be following – if you want to start living life you were truly meant to live – then perhaps we should talk. Send me an e-mail and we can arrange a time to chat.

Jun 092017

Earl R Smith II, PhD


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Item One

Have you ever had this experience? You meet with someone for the first time. First thing you know you’re listening to their elevator speech. They go on about the business that they’re in and the latest deal there working on. They go on and on with this rehearsed performance. With the worst of them you start to wonder if you really need to be there at all. Continue reading »

Jun 082017

Earl R Smith II, PhD


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Dalai Lama

There is a sea change going on among millennials and the rest of us should pay close attention to it.

The Harvard University survey, which polled young adults between ages 18 and 29, found that 51 percent of respondents do not support capitalism. Just 42 percent said they support it.

With the excesses of capitalism reaching the limits of the ability of a society to maintain a stable relationship among individuals, the new generation appears to be changing its mind about what constitutes a ‘good life’. Increasingly they are resisting the idea that capitalism is the only way to organize a fair and equitable society. And they have a point.

Modern society now seems to be structured so as to make the rich richer and deliver the middle class into servitude. The trends since the Reagan years are so well established that only through a severe and persistent exercise of self-deception could any reasonable person avoid seeing them.

The Rise of the Uber Class: Corporations are now people – but a strange sort of people. In the old days if a person committed a crime you hauled them before the court and subjected them to penalties under the law. But that is not the case with these uber-people. Now a group of people, in the name of a corporation, commit what is clearly a crime and what happens? They are bailed out. The government actually forces the human people to pay the bill for the crimes. Additionally the corporation can take the results of the surpluses generated by the workers and deploy them against the interests of the very people who generated the surplus. Free speech is now defined as a theft of those surpluses and their use against the very people who generated them. The uber-citizen now controls not only the economy but the government.

Destruction of the Idea of Equal Before the Law: These millennials have come to realize that there are two legal systems – one for the very rich and another for everybody else. They see it as an inevitable result of the capitalist system. The jails fill up with people who have committed relatively minor crimes while those who almost brought down the world financial system not only keep their jobs and privileges but collect bonuses for talking advantage of the system and draining the treasury.

Servitude from Study: Those seeking an education find themselves buried under mountains of debt and entering a job market that does not allow them to repay it. Many millennials look at the prospect and turn away. They see it as a ‘bad deal’. Their future has been stolen by the uber-citizens with the help of the very government that is supposed to represent them.

But most importantly, young people are questioning the dominant definition of capitalism.

“The word ‘capitalism’ doesn’t mean what it used to,” said Zach Lustbader, a senior at Harvard involved in conducting the poll, which was published Monday. For those who grew up during the Cold War, capitalism meant freedom from the Soviet Union and other totalitarian regimes. For those who grew up more recently, capitalism has meant a financial crisis from which the global economy still hasn’t completely recovered.

In an important way, the millennials are returning to the basic American values that the current form of capitalism has worked so hard to destroy. They read about how things were before. The efforts of the Franklin Roosevelt administration to pull the country out of the great depression. The positive impact of the rise of labor unions on the economy and the welfare of workers. They look back on a time when the dominant idea was a government of, by and for the people and are horrified at what has happened to their country.

John Della Volpe, the polling director at Harvard, went on to personally interview a small group of young people about their attitudes toward capitalism to try to learn more. They told him that capitalism was unfair and left people out despite their hard work.

“They’re not rejecting the concept,” Della Volpe said. “The way in which capitalism is practiced today, in the minds of young people — that’s what they’re rejecting.”

But there is something else going on that is just as important as the growing dissatisfaction with capitalism among the millennials. They are starting to question the idea of what constitutes a good life.

Got This Feeling?

Got This Feeling?

Millennials are watching their parents and grandparents consume the patrimony that historically has been passed on to future generation. They watch the equity in their parent’s homes being sucked away by reverse mortgages and see that the program is now to spend every last dime and then die. The perversion of the American dream is so obscene that they feel little connection to a past that will leave them with nothing but debt and limited opportunities. And they wonder why they should follow the example of those who have thrown away the fundamental advantages that this country brought to its people.


And searching for acceptance, they gave it all way. Only the children of their children know the price they had to pay.

And the children of their children are the millennials. And they are both pissed and dismayed. The rise of populism is a direct result of this increasing dissatisfaction with capitalism as it presently operates in the US. The rise of Bernie Sanders is a clear reflection of that. Even the faux populism of Donald Trump can be connected to that dissatisfaction. It is worth noting that the last ‘establishment’ candidate standing is a Democrat and that increasingly Wall Street and the very wealthy are deciding that she is preferable to populism.

Millennials are the canary in the coal mine. They are telling us something about the future of the United States and of capitalism as its defining economic system. We are fast approaching a time – if we are not there already – when the leadership of both political parties will be ignored as lackeys of the wealthy and special interests. We are fast approaching a time of revolution. The torch will not be passed to a new generation. It will be wrenched from the hands of those who seek to perpetuate a system that millennials see as rigged and fundamentally un-American.

Dr SmithI am a political and social theorist with a PhD from Strathclyde University in Glasgow Scotland and a Masters from The Sloan School of Management at MIT. My most recent book is Envisioning, Wandering Outside the Boxes: a speculation on the process of political and sociological theorizing as it is currently practiced, and to some extent on how it has been historically practiced,. It is available in paperback and Amazon Kindle.

Jun 072017

Earl R Smith II, PhD


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It’s an old saying and it used to be true. As children, when we were asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, we responded with all sorts of possibilities. Some of us wanted to be firemen or policemen. Others wanted to be doctors or nurses. A few decided that they wanted to be astronauts and go to the moon.

But life intruded and we came to realize, sometimes gradually and sometimes because of a shock, that it was easier to say something than do something – that it was easier to daydream about the possible then to achieve the actual.

Out of that experience, we learn the truth of things. Leaving behind the fantasies of youth, we came to grapple with the realities of our own existence.

Along our journey most of us found that truth was important. Veracity was more than just a word. Honor and dignity were important to our lives; as was a sense of self-respect and value. Taken together, they defined what a human being – a man or a woman – ought to aspire to be.

Three things occurred during the latter part of the 20th century that upset the apple cart. The first was the emergence of an increasingly me-centric culture during the late 80s. It flowered through the end of the century and into the new one. Increasingly, the focus of human efforts was the accumulation of wealth and status. The somewhat traditional social structure that existed up until the early 60s first broke down and then morphed into a society of avarice nomads and non-nomadic prey.

It’s the second thing that happened was as a result of the cultural change. The gap between the very wealthy and the rest of society grew almost exponentially. The rich got richer and the middle class began to disappear.

As the wealth and income gap approached, and then exceeded that during the Middle Ages, the wealthy became more and more concerned for not only maintaining their wealth but, facing increasing difficulties of squeezing more and more blood out of their prey. They began to take more and more extreme actions. Their core strategy was to buy governments. At first, did that directly but then, thanks to a decision by the Supreme Court, a new class of ‘persons’ emerged. Corporations became super-people and the wealthy, who controlled most of them, could direct far more substantial resources in their attempt to maintain and extend their economic hegemony.

You would have thought that such a position was very difficult to maintain in the face of any level of critical thinking on the part of the rest of the population. Knowing the truth of it – that your prospects and those of your family are being diminished – that the bill of goods you are being sold as fraudulent – that the purpose of government is no longer to protect you from the wealthy and powerful but to protect the wealthy and powerful from you. You would think…

But then came the third development – the information age and virtual reality. And with their arrival came to departure of all of those virtues which formed the foundation of what it meant to be a human being. At the very point in time that these virtues were needed the most, the ultimate tools of propaganda and disinformation showed up. The huge megaphone that they provided allowed for the drowning out of truth or veracity. By muddying the water with torrents of fake news, the predators were now able to simply cover over the truth with piles of lies. No longer did they have to make logical arguments. No longer did they have to oppose the truth. They simply buried it under piles of manufactured bull shit.

Now everything was easy. “Truth” became a word that liars used to justify their lies. “Integrity” became a garment designed to hide corruption. Nothing was sacred because everything was profaned. The wealthy, and the people that they bought, took control of the tools of propaganda. Their mission was simple. To turn first the government and then the lives of the American people into a cheap reality show. They even found a reality show host to serve as their ‘useful idiot’.

But you would think that there has to be some residual – some part of those virtues – that still remains. That is the saddest truth in all of this. There is none. It is the only way to explain what has happened.

Think of it! Think of what has happened. A substantial portion of the population, most of them under heavy economic pressure and relying in one way or another on a social safety net, support a very wealthy individual whose every action seems focused primarily on making their lives worse and enriching further the very wealthy.

Why would a substantial portion of society decide on a course which is clearly against their own self-interest?

I suggest that the answer is that they no longer touch the reality of their lives. They have come to inhabit the virtual reality which has been created for them as a distraction. bread and circuses! But now the bread is getting expensive and the circus is getting repetitive. Their lives have been turned into a low-budget ‘reality show’ funded by their willingness to give away everything that made their country possible in exchange for an unending stream of fortune-cookie slogans. And what has become easy is to induce these individuals to commit slow suicide in service to the wealthy and the corporations.

Jun 062017

Earl R Smith II, PhD


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The other day I was leading a discussion focused on the ways that the digital revolution was impacting relationships. The group of eighteen were evenly divided between those under thirty and those over – with two in the latter group over sixty. About a half hour into the discussion, the question of the nature and meaning of the word friendship came to center stage. The discussion that followed was so defining that I want to summarize it.


friendship1_1The meaning of the word: One thing became clear early on. The definition of friendship was significantly different for the two groups. For the older group, friendship had a more nuanced meaning which involved not only a deep personal relationship but a commitment to the welfare of the ‘friend’. One guy described a gathering that took place twice a month. He and his friends would get together with the sole purpose of just being together. Business talk and cell phones were verboten. They gathered because they ‘liked each other’ and referred to it as their ‘meaningful time’.

I could tell that members of the younger group were intrigued by the description of this gathering. Some of them asked questions while others referenced their own experience as different from the ‘older generation’. Here are a few samples:

“I never do that kind of thing. My life is so busy that I can’t waste time just hanging out.”

“I have lots of Friends on Facebook most of whom I have never met.”

“You guys grew up coming from a particular place. I’ve grown up as a gypsy – not from any place in particular.”

“I wish that I had that kind of gathering.”

 “What do you guys talk about if you can’t talk about business?”

The last comment shifted the conversation in a new direction. “We talk about each other’s lives. We look out for each other. Maybe one of us needs help with something. Maybe there is a cause that needs supporting. But mostly I was brought up to think that life without this kind of relationship was meaningless.”

The two groups reacted differently. There were nods of understanding from the ‘older’ ones. A couple of ‘damn rights’ and ‘sure things’ got muttered. The ‘younger’ ones were less sure what to make of it.

The Source: Then one of the ‘old’ guys put in in perspective. “My idea of friendship came from my parents, family and experience growing up. But it was forged during my time in the military and in battle. (He had been in Vietnam during the war). You came to know what friendship really was when you have people who would give everything they have in order to help you. You video game guys have no idea what that is like.”

One of the younger old guys chimed in. “When I grew up we were mostly all in one boat. One America. One Americans. We felt a camaraderie – a connection. Maybe it wasn’t what we thought but we believed in it and that pulled us closer together. It was us against all comers. There were unions that protected workers rights, military service that bound us to a common cause, women got the vote, the civil right acts and much more. Now everybody is in it for themselves and the politics of division for personal gain is dominate. For Christ’s sake, kids are getting slaughtered, 90% of the people are for sensible gun control and those dickheads in Washington are to busy sucking the contribution wrapped phalluses of the god damn NRA.” There was a silence that followed before the conversation started back up.

The F-Word: What then followed was a discussion that began as fairly adversarial but drifted towards an unexpected destination. One of the younger guys asked the question that set it off.

“What is the difference between how you see friendship and how we see it?”

kellerThe response was, “Friendship for me is a personal commitment that is not faded by events or circumstances. It’s a commitment to be faithful to a commitment. It doesn’t turn away because of an opportunity for personal gain or advantage. It is not disposable.”

For the second time it became clear that something meant one thing to the younger group and another to the older one. One the one side, the question of friendship was mostly linguistic. You have a friend because you say they are your friend. On the other side, it was a question of action. You have a friend because you were there when they needed you – because you sacrificed for that friendship – because there was real evidence of what that friendship meant – tracks in the snow. On the one side it was more kumbaya – on the other more of the grit of humanity.

Again and again the conversation came back to the difference in experience growing up. The one group had come of age during a time when Americans saw themselves as Americans first and Democrats, Republicans, Conservatives, Liberals, etc. secondarily. They had come of age during a time when the country was tested by wars and deep divisions politically and had lived through the coming back together. They had participated in all the travails and joys of the decades – from the first landing on the moon to the slaughter of three of the most inspirational leaders in American history.

The other group seemed to feel deprived. They had no such binding feeling towards their country or countrymen. They are Democrats, Republicans, Conservatives, Liberals, etc. first and Americans secondarily. They had observed rather than participated in wars. Increasingly their lives were apart from nature. Most of them felt that the world was against them and that the system was rigged. But the one thing that became clearest was that they felt isolated and unable to connect with others of their generation. One comment stands out.

mentoring-makes-a-difference“I have never made the kind of commitment that you guys have. If I am in a situation where my interests are in conflict with a friends, my interests rule. As Tolkien had the Ent say, “I am on nobody’s side because nobody is on my side.”

That comment was the door through which the group journeyed to a different place. The older guys began to realize the unfulfilled needs of the younger ones. The younger ones realized that these ‘gray hairs’ not only knew something that they needed to learn but had something that they very much wanted to get.

The discussion went on for hours. We closed the bar we had meet in. As we were breaking up, one of the youngest asked, “Can we do this again?”

© Earl R. Smith II, PhD
Dr SmithI provide mentoring to those who have both the courage and determination to make a truly transformational journey. My approach is heavily influenced by core principles of Zen Buddhism. I also provide advisory services to CEO and senior teams – particularly mid-market companies. I don’t offer quick fixes or follow the latest fads. If you are willing to make the long journey – if it’s time for you to come to know the person you really are and the path you should be following – if you want to start living life you were truly meant to live – then perhaps we should talk. Send me an e-mail and we can arrange a time to chat.

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