Please Don’t Eat the Constitution: A Field Guide to Purpose for those Committed to Making a Better World
It had been a very long day to what would become an even longer night. In a few short hours I would be walking into the lion’s den, hell’s kitchen. Some would say it was even worse - a Tea Party meeting - to argue “for” a transportation tax hike.
Walking past a pair of hungry cats staring at me from my porch, a days old regurgitated fur ball sitting on the welcome mat, I made for the back deck, speeding past my pre-teenage, ultra-hormonal daughter, who was informing me for the umpteenth time that she needed money for a new pair of dance shoes, the old ones having been chewed up by our Boxer. Pretending to not hear her plea, I bolted for the back yard, my lone sanctuary.
I was seeking a few moments of reflective peace before jumping back into my car at rush hour to face bumper to bumper traffic crawling north on Interstate 275 to the Alfonso Center Meeting Hall where I was to debate a local anti-pornography activist, turned transit opponent. It was my 50th birthday, but rather than a romantic dinner with my wife I was planning an evening with people who wanted me tarred and feathered.
It was not suppose to be this way. I was going to be President or a powerful member of Congress, but instead I was a local county commissioner, fashioning dog tethering ordinances and domestic partner registries. And now, to the chagrin of Tea Party activists, I was committing treason by supporting a penny sales tax increase for transit, of which a portion went towards a much vilified light rail system. Tea Partiers hate light rail.
Reading through my notes, the brisk evening overtaking the winters sun, I reached for my back pocket to double check that I was still carrying what some would suggest is more important than a cup protector to a lacrosse goalie, my trusty pocket Constitution. It was gone. A cold panic swept over me. How could I walk into a meeting of the local chapter of the “Sons of Liberty” and expect to exit unmolested without it’s presence? That’s when I spied what appeared to be my small pocket edition in the mouth of Roxy - our family dog. Bored with dance shoes, Roxy’s taste was moving on to Constitutional theory. I lunged for her, but missed as she bolted for the bushes. Please I shouted - “don’t eat the Constitution.”
I was born at high noon.
This book is written for those who are obsessed with history, infused with an often times ill defined but burning sense of purpose and committed to making a positive difference in the world. This has been my existence from the moment that I can first remember, and though I have led a relatively unremarkable life, certainly when compared to countless men and women whose resumes far eclipse my own; I have lived a great life filled with awe, wonder and discovery by simply participating, at my very own modest level, in this bold experiment set into motion by our creator.
In the 1950s, Albert Camu, an Algerian and French citizen, spent nine intense years preparing his masterpiece The Rebel – in which he struggled to explain how the mind, which is full of meaning, can operate in a world which to him – was meaningless. Camu rebelled against a world of injustice and suffering, but recognized that the very revolution which men engaged to rid the world of pain could also serve as an avenue for terrible atrocities perpetrated against humanity by those seeking to redress wrongs.
Camu was an intellectual archeologist, striving to understand how man, so small could find meaning in a world of hate, extreme violence and inexplicable suffering. His life’s work would serve as a road map for many trying to find reason in their own lives, despite the crushing weight of reality which can rob you of all hope.
Camu, whose life was cut short in a tragic car accident a mere 22 days before my own birth, had stumbled upon a clue. His search for meaning, which spanned great novels of intellectual daring, recognized the duality of mankind. Like Jim Collins, who references duality when describing the level 5 leader in his book Good to Great , Camu understood that life was of great value, which helps to explain his focus on human rights in the 1950s, but that it can also appear nihilistic. Wrote Camu, “I think my life is of great importance, but I also think that it is meaningless.” Duality explodes from the pages of his works, which is why some tried to tie him to the great nihilistic John Paul Sartre, yet in the end, Camu discovered life’s incredible value and dedicated his waking moments to its preservation and respect.
We want to make a difference, and are unabashed at times with regard to entering the fray, but yet we see in our own lives and most certainly the lives of others the emptiness and limits. We want to save the world, but we can’t even navigate the maddening and at
times inexplicable complexity of the frustrating times in which we live. Still, we dedicate ourselves to purpose, like a Salmon struggling to make it upstream to spawn, and then die, we plow ahead, certain that the purpose to which we strive will justify our efforts. We see, like the philosopher Ayn Rand, who discovered her purpose at the tender age of 9, understand that we are designed for purpose, infused with a burning desire to rebuild the world yet overwhelmed with day to day problems that mount like so much dead weight on our shoulders.
Ayn Rand would write that her life was her work, which she defined as objectivism, and is well covered by the Ayn Rand Institute. Objectivism, she writes is a blueprint for life. This blueprint centers on objective reality, reason, self interest and capitalism. What I also found helpful was her assertion that she lived her life as she wrote her characters. For the purpose of this book, I make my case for a life spent doing; a full throttled effort to make a positive difference in a world that to many appears in chaotic distortion. My book is written from the vantage point of intense historical analysis as well as the time and events to which I am bound. This is why I hope you indulge me in short personal digressions through my own brief history in time and tangential applications of topical historical experiences.
As a young boy I was fascinated with the Cold War and those intense, purposeful men who inhabited the Politburo that ruled the Soviet Union. They seemed to work with purpose, cognizant of a mission that was far greater than mere existence or simple pleasure, and they appeared willing to suffer much in the pursuit of a world that both fascinated and terrorized me at a very young age. Weird as it might seem to you today, I wanted to both understand their cause and fight them, for I knew, even at an early age through a steady feed of information from my father, the terrible consequences of barbaric totalitarianism and how it robbed people of their freedom and tried to crush their spirit and soul.
I remember rummaging a book sellers stall at an open-air flee market in Altus Oklahoma, were I attended high school while my dad was stationed at Altus Air force Base, when I came upon a tattered paperback copy of Khrushchev Remembers. I still own the thick, heavy, black covered paperback copy to this day, a photo of Khrushchev on the cover shaking his fist at the world.
Tearing into the pages, I started reading the book while still standing at the sellers stall and was immediately hooked. For in his own words, the former Russian leader, exiled following the Cuban Missile debacle, would explain what propelled him and others to serve a murderous regime that both helped defeat Hitler but spawned horrible gulags. It was as if the same intensity which fueled Khrushchev’s life’s work wedded in his faith in scientific socialism, to the exclusion of God and individual purpose, had helped propel me, but in a profoundly different direction. For I began to realize my own mission at that early age, which was to fight the evil of communism with every ounce of strength I could muster from my body. Years later this interest in all things Soviet would lead to Russian literature and a minor in Russian at Florida State University, despite the fact that I was a horrible language student. In my care free college years, spent drinking copious quantities of beer and debating politics it dawned on me that the disparate causes which Khrushchev served and to which Camu wrote, while spoiled by human hubris and decrepit frailties might not be totally inconsistent with a design and purpose that resides within each person. One found salvation in promoting a state to the detriment of individual freedom and liberty while the other relished human freedom but questioned its ultimate meaning and purpose.
Your purpose is as real as the genetic code that determines your hair color, lets call it your Great Commission. It is not so dissimilar from a magnetic force which you can’t see but is real none the less. Each person has a designed purpose which is equally real and incredibly important. It is a mission that eats away at your insides propelling you to want to discuss alternative energy sources when your spouse desperately needs you to engage in household chores, for there is a weeks worth of garbage piling up, the kids are fighting, the dog is eating the neighbors flowers, and “isn’t that our 4 year old son running down the middle of the street naked?” Life’s crazy and immediate concerns are vitally important and must be engaged, but still, we have within us a cause that overtakes all diversions and propels you to dig deep into existential reality for clues as to what and where you are to go.
America was founded upon the alter of supreme purpose. Men and women, in search of religious freedom, great wealth or adventure abroad were inspired by a grand sense of purpose to take the risks inherent in leaving the safety of their homes for foreign shores.
At times our purposes crossed, leading to horrible conflict, pain and suffering. Inexorably we moved forward, driven by purpose, inspired by faith, and armed with intensive study and preparation, leading us to our present circumstance.
Each second history is being made, much it of small, though none trivial, and you dear reader are an integral part of this process. History drives us forward, shaping our destiny, leading us to greater and more prosperous opportunities should we be cognizant of its call and willing to participate. You have a part in shaping our history and making our world a better place.
The first step to participating in life’s greatest adventure is mobilization. Mobilization can have an intimidating ring to it. It brings to mind the awesome responsibility born every day by men and women who shed their normal home life responsibilities for the opportunity to wear a uniform in the service of their country. Mobilization requires you to leave family, friends and the comfort of home for the rigors of battle and the uncertainty that accompanies unsettling environments and difficult contests. Yet the battle for our future is on and your participation is urgently required if we are to survive as a free nation dedicated to the proposition that we are indeed “endowed by (our) creator with “unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” These words penned by Jefferson and found in our Declaration of Independence help set the stage for our ongoing conflict that involves much more than a war on terror, which still exists, our domestic battles here at home, from abortion and immigration to gay marriage and the national debt.
Our conflict is against the tyranny of hopelessness and despair that sinks man into despondency and grotesque distortions of right and wrong. Our conflict is against the fury of hate, intolerance, bigotry and pure evil that moves men to do horrible things against their neighbor. It is our motivator but not enough for we must have direction or our efforts are wasted. To you this book is written. I urge you to read on, and then pick up other books, from Three Cups of Tea by the discredited, but still important Greg Mortenson, to Ripples of Battle by the brilliant Victor Davis Hanson. Read history, read philosophy and science, read and then read more, for the clues to life’s purpose abound on the written page and it is your ticket to a life of meaning.
America often finds itself at the center of great crises around the world, doing its utmost to remedy some of the most vexing problems facing the world. As a young man I found myself mesmerized by Henry Kissinger, as he shuttled around the world, moving from one hot spot to another, trying to bring forge a stability that benefited the great purpose of the United States. In college I consumed Kissinger’s White House Years while sitting under great oaks at Stozier Library and thought I found my purpose, which was to engage in the great game and help confront the diabolical threat posed to all free men by communism and the Soviet red menace. President Nixon fascinated me as well, for here was a man who understood foreign policy at its most intricate level, steeped in the study of great leaders from around the world, patiently proscribing remedies to various problems. Skimming his book, Six Crises, which was written while he recovered in the political wilderness following his 1960 defeat at the hands of John F. Kennedy, it was possible to deign the mind of a mad genius who thrived on challenges and longed to be at the center of the great battles. Yet for all his genius and sense of purpose Nixon failed, in part because his purpose had become corrupted by pettiness, hatred and a skewed sense of right and wrong. Nixon’s purpose became himself, imbued by a belief that his success was central to the success of our nation; he allowed his ambition and ruthless desire for greatest to overshadow good judgment. Consumed by paranoia and driven to ignore the law in an effort to defeat his enemies, Nixon lost sight of his own true purpose succumbing instead to ignominy.
Nixon’s life serves as a lesson to us all. It is a grand lesson of how not to pursue your dreams. Still, Nixon was a man of grand strategic thinking. So as we set out to design grand strategies for building a safer more peaceful world we must first look into our own heart and then focus on our own country as we are to truly improve the condition of man.
Our commission might take us to foreign shores, but our anchor is set much closer. To succeed we must be certain that our country is a strong as possible, both morally and physically, with an emphasis on improving the infrastructure of our country, before we seek to shore up the weaknesses of others.
I began working on this book over a decade ago fascinated by those who dedicated their entire lives to causes that they deemed worthier than their own narrow self interest.
Upon graduating from college I was accepted into Aviation Officer Candidate School at Pensacola, FL and the last book I touched before leaving home and arriving at the Naval Air Station was Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage. Whether reading about the political greats that inspired Kennedy to write a book, as he lay in a hospital bed convalescing from his own war injuries, or following the heroic exploits of Martin Luther King as he fought for civil rights in the 1950s and 60s, I was compelled by the lives of men and women committed to making a difference in this world. In my own small way, like you, I set out to do the same. It was one reason I chose to serve in the United States navy, but also the reason I would resign my commission a short eight years later, while serving at the Pentagon, to strike out on a lonely vigil for Congress.
As I point out throughout the book, I would run and lose three consecutive bids for congress, the last attempt in 1996. Had my efforts all been a waste? Was I simply an idealist, as the Chairwoman of the Republican Party described me back in 1992, for challenging the reigning 30 year incumbent, content with titling at windmills?
I will explore this further in chapter one, but for now simply posit that my initial forays into politics was a small step taken by millions of people every day, from Saskatchewan to Silicon Valley, trying to scratch out a difference in the world. It was a small step that I was called to take, and did so, despite the fact that I would not win. Indeed I was destined to lose that race, but in the end, win a much larger battle.
Visiting Boston University in 1996, after losing my last wretched race for congress, I was taken by a statue of Martin Luther King Jr. which stood outside the religious department of that great institution of higher learning. King had earned his doctoral at the Universities Theology Department and his life epitomized what I wanted so desperately for myself, a grand sense of mission, a massive focus on peace, and the faith that man, despite his ability to do horrid things to one another, was put on this planet for good, and with a purpose. My other heroes, like Bobby Knight, Mother Teresa, Vince Lombardi, General George Patton, General George Marshall, Martin Luther King, the neighbor next door, all had or have within them the passion to maximize their God given skills, in the pursuit of excellence, and making a difference, if only marginally, in the world. I too wanted this for myself, driven by an unrelenting desire to achieve, even when laziness or wanton selfishness sometimes weakened my resolve or diminished my accomplishments. Not a day would pass that I was not moved by a desire for purpose and a hunger to learn, finding myself bored during most vacations, aghast that people would willingly give up hours of their lives on some inane time consuming activity that simply lost hours, when there were problems to solve and issues to attack.
My research activity has been sporadic, although the last two decades of my life have been engaged in an all encompassing attempt to drill down into the grist of life’s purpose or Great Commission, for the reason of understanding my role and yours in this grand cause. I will go into more detail later, but it is important to understand that my own start began at a very early age, indeed I was likely born with it, and has it consumed my adult life. Ayn Rand says she was 9 when she determined to be a writer and which point “everything I have done was integrated to that purpose.”
And so I was perhaps three years of age when I first felt the impulse to public service, for I insist that I remember watching President Kennedy’s funeral on TV, the black and white screen flickering on that terrible and somber day when the body of our dead president was slowly drawn by horse carriage across the world stage.
By eight I was hooked, staying up late to watch the 1968 election returns, rooting for Nixon (my parents were Republicans) or wondering who this 3rd Party guy George Wallace was and what impact, if any, he might have on the outcome. In college I was consumed with reading anything unrelated to my major, which was business, but in particular favored history and politics, and hoped that one day I might work in the White House. I actually read Kissinger’s mammoth 1552 page tome, White House Years and found myself smitten with foreign policy and grand efforts to counter the Soviet menace. But I also read Arthur M. Schlesinger’s almost as long, A Thousand Days, and found myself mesmerized by the hope and intensity of a driven administration committed to remaking the world and calling on its citizens to reach out and make a safer more democratic world. The rigorous intellect and hardness of Nixon and the brilliance and idealism of Kennedy fueled my passion for public service and dedication to make the world a better place. Nixon’s failures as a leader left a searing imprint on my soul as I learned that the ends did not always justify the means, and that Machiavelli aside, it was critical to govern with integrity and honor at home if we were to truly going to remake the world abroad.
Soon I would be reading about the likes of General Washington, General Dwight Eisenhower and perhaps the most unsung, but important, General George Marshall whose names epitomizes integrity.
This is not to say that I have it all figured out, or have a better grasp of the mechanics of the Great Commission than other far more successful and accomplished people, but then again it is from the vantage point of a common participant that I present this exciting project to you - the frazzled, but intrepid reader who one day hopes to change the world. So go ahead and put this book down, if only for a moment, so you can thank the Starbucks barista for your Grande Latte with a hint of mocha, and then it’s back to our purpose.
I write this book then for those who are committed to the taking on their great cause but wonder just how a school teacher, or businessman jetting across the country at 35,000 feet to make a personal sales pitch, or a biotech company President preparing for an IPO, or housewife can help make it happen. You’re busy. You have a family, a dog, job(s) and that next plane to catch. How can you possibly take on one more task, indeed your already president of your kids school PTA and the assistant to the head coach for your elementary school age daughters semi-pro soccer club that plays every weekend and apparently, every holiday, let alone save the world? It‘s easy, for the alternative is a slow, mind numbing death, where talent is wasted and opportunity lost. It also defies our role in the world as off spring of those who committed their lives to individual liberty and prosperity at tremendous risk and sacrifice. We were born with a cause wired deep into our genes, it is your job to find that cause, and then working late into the night; while others rest, prepare to take your place in history. Theodore Roosevelt called it a citizen’s duty to get into the arena. Senator John McCain relied upon it to get him through the desperate days of the Hanoi Hilton in Vietnam.
So this book is written for the average person, and it is for the deeply restless. It is written for the frustrated housewife as much as it is for the navy midshipman who one day dreams of serving in the United States Senate. Is your life plagued with a never ending OCD – ADD type compulsion to understand that giant riddle, wrapped in a multidimensional enigma which sweeps all of humankind and beyond into its fold? Or maybe you just want to understand how your local water bill just tripled in a months time. Think back to the movie Close Encounters where the protagonist sits at the dinner table shaping his mashed potatoes into a vision he is tormented with since his encounter with a UFO – in this case Devils Tower, Montana. This is you, a sheepish grin on your face, carving the up potatoes so to speak, searching for answers as your family quietly dials 911. You are willing to dig up your kitchen if necessary to get to at the answer and follow your purpose.
This is why I write this book and why I hope you will download and read as you prepare to board your flight to your next destination. Because if you are like me, you are drawn towards the light, seeking answers to the greatest mystery that sits atop all we do, think and are. It is everywhere but elusive, and why I chose it for my life’s dissertation.