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By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

Yesterday someone whose opinion I value told me, “You hate the government.”

I was stunned by this summation.

I don’t hate the government.” I thought to myself. “In fact, I am often a formal, working part of the government.

Where did this broad stroke about my emotions toward the government come from? What caused it to happen? Why do we create these opaque and rigid summations?

It occurred to me that the most interesting, and I’ll suggest threatening thing, about a four-letter summation of any belief set, any person, any group is that it is convenient. And convenience is comforting.

Living with me is anything but comforting, orderly and convenient. I am a weird guy, given to remarkably reasoned insights, absurdly chaotic ones and everything in between. I hate furniture, love open space, and fill it with a clutter of superfluous gear and books. I am kind to animals, believe in some form of gun control and own guns. I believe in peace but work in an industry whose mission is war. I like the government but believe it should be smaller and more efficient. None of who I am is congruent or follows a convenient narrative. I don’t fit into anyone’s tidy little four-word box. Even if you try to suggest, “Tom Demerly is complicated”, it’s not that simple.

We live in an age of accelerating and proliferating media. And, as with nearly every new technology from the first crude stone age weapons to atomic power to social media, we develop the technology before we develop the mutually acceptable and broadly beneficial ways to employ it.

We think shit up and then figure out how to use it later. People driving while texting on cell phones is one example that comes to mind. The guys who invented the atom bomb are another.

As a result, the acceleration and proliferation of media has created a world of chaotic stimulus filled with billions of new voices, some of them skilled in delivery, all of them screaming at once in what feels like escalating volume and urgency.

The influx of stimulus is deafening and disorienting, and creates a kind of social or collective panic that, on an individual level, may make us yearn to make some de facto sense of it all. We want one thing we can hang onto, one set of things to believe, one unimpeachable, unassailable truth to comfort us and still our cognitive waters.

Imagine a world where the distance from one end to the other of a thirty six-inch, three-foot-long yardstick changed arbitrarily. No two peoples’ yardstick reading thirty-six inches was actually the same length. It would be immensely confusing and chaotic.

Quickly, people would gravitate toward a consensus on the physical dimension of the thing we call a “36-inch, three-foot yard”. The consensus may vary from broad region to region, especially those separated by wide geographical obstacles, like oceans and the metric system in Europe and Asia, and the imperial measures still used in the U.S. But broadly we would gravitate toward an emotionally convenient and culturally necessary convention on the physical dimension we referred to as “one yard, three-feet, 36-inches”. We would all get on the same measuring stick.

The need for a common social and cultural yardstick is what drives belief sets like common religions, desires, hatreds and prejudices. We like, and need, to all be on the same page, and in the chaotic world of fast, evolving media, the pages of modern media blow by like a book tossed in a hurricane.

In Gia Fu Feng and Jane English’s landmark translation of the philosophical masterwork by Lao Tzu, The Tao De Ching, it has been translated from Chinese that:

“All the Colors blind the eye.
All the sounds deafen the ear.
All the flavors numb the taste.
Too many thoughts weaken the mind.
Too many desires wither the heart.”

The Tao de Ching was written in about the fourth century B.C. Its origins likely came from even earlier, around the sixth century B.C. and took two centuries to summarize into the cryptic, lyrical haikus that we read today. When you read it, you have to stop and contemplate its meaning and context. It is light in text, heavy on interpretation.

The thesis of this passage from the Tao De Ching is that too much cognitive noise bothers us and may tend to make us gravitate toward the opposite extreme, very defined beliefs that can be distilled into a few words. Simple ideas to make sense of complex stimulus.

The remarkable phenomenon of life has never been as simple as a few words. It is complex. As this complexity is hurled at us in an acceleration and proliferation of media we struggle to make some sense of it. As a result, we summarize and rationalize, trying to cram ideas and people and events into convenient boxes as they come at us faster and faster in a rapidly accelerating and stressful game of cognitive whack-a-mole.

That is impossible. And undesirable. If things were simple, we’d get bored.

I’ll offer that exposure to the “drinking from a fire hose” consumption of social and news media benefits from taking some contrasting time of quiet contemplation, deep research into narrow topics for a more thorough insight and, most of all, strong individual reflection while trying to avoid cramming- and being crammed- into convenient thought boxes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Tom Demerly

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The greatest fear I had going into Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit was that it would be a sad eulogy to Tom Clancy’s genius. I’m pleasantly surprised to be wrong.

Director Kenneth Branagh did his homework and borrowed subtle and successful elements from each of the Jason Bourne, James Bond, Mission Impossible and Tom Clancy franchises to weave a surprisingly good story thread that is visually well done.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a tight and snappy spy thriller. It’s well written, tightly shown and quickly paced. Camera, sound and production techniques are tasteful and pay homage to its influences. Very little is over blown. Even the sets are well dressed and chosen.

Writers David Koepp and Adam Cozad used Tom Clancy’s character Jack Ryan with reverence for Clancy’s original vision of Dr. Ryan, the nerdy analyst turned reluctant but capable action hero.

Jack Ryan gets his first kill James Bond style, in a bathroom.

Jack Ryan gets his first kill James Bond style, in a bathroom.

Chris Pine as Jack Ryan is fantastic as is Kevin Costner as Thomas Harper, his CIA boss. And because no great spy film is a success without great villains, it is a pleasure to have Kenneth Branagh as the dangerous Russian, Viktor Cherevin.

The plot hits ominously close to home, literally and figuratively, with a story line that weaves into the little known world of economic warfare. Villains originate from Dearborn, Michigan in the shadow of Ford World Headquarters. The plan is to crash the stock market in a combined terror and economic attack; a scenario everyone hopes will remain fiction.

But Tom Clancy’s fiction has an ominous way of weaving its way into the headlines.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit never sags and builds well to a strong climax. There are a few corny moments but remember, this isn’t a strict Clancy plot. It weaves influences from every corner of the spy thriller genre, and does it with respect and tribute to each. While these stories do become somewhat cookie-cutter this one is flavored uniquely and with enough craft to make it a snappy 105-minutes. And yes, there is a sequel planned that hopefully continues with this fine cast in the upcoming Without Remorse.

Tom Clancy would have loved Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. It is tight, quick and nice looking. This is a pleasant surprise after the painful loss of a great author and storyteller who created these characters. That new writers are able to execute on Clancy’s vision confirms their talent and reverence for his mastery.

Taking to the streets with a nod to Bourne franchise in "Shadow Recruit".

Taking to the streets with a nod to Bourne franchise in “Shadow Recruit”.

By Tom Demerly.

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I am, finally, home.

After four laps of the globe, trips to every continent, living on three continents, six countries and five states and not even remembering everywhere I’ve been, I’m back to the place I started from, my favorite place on earth; Dearborn, Michigan in the United States. It is and always has been home. And this has been a very long trip.

I will tell you stories about beautiful beaches and exotic places, about high mountains and vast deserts, war torn countries and hopeful sunrises. Success and failure. I will bore you to tears with esoteric facts and improbable stories, all true, mind you, if modified by time and memory. But I will never tell you there is a place better than Dearborn. So I am home.

Dearborn is the hometown of Henry Ford, the place where Ford Motor Company is headquartered and a suburb of the beleaguered and rebounding City of Detroit. We have one of the largest Arab-American populations in the world outside of the Middle East. Through the dark and light of our history we’ve been known for industry, recession and racism, Orville Hubbard and Greenfield Village. We have a campus of the University of Michigan and one of the best community colleges in the country named after Henry Ford. We also design and build cars here so good that when the entire U.S. auto industry needed a government bailout, we didn’t take it. Ford stock was about a dollar a share then. Today it is sixteen times that. And climbing.

So I’m home.

I learned something about home during the time I was away. Home is made of the history you’ve lived, the people you love and who love you. It is built of the precise map of your hometown built into your head so you never need Google Maps or a GPS in your car. You know every street, alley, sidewalk, and every shortcut.

But mostly, home is friends. Friends who share your history of triumph and failure, promise and forgiveness. Home is the girl you walked to school with in 7th grade and then take on a date 37 years later. And she still looks the same to you.  Home is the place where friends give you their old furniture and know your cats’ names.

Home is where you made your mistakes, took your licks, learned your game and gone on to things you thought were bigger and better only to discover there is a world of people searching for the same thing. But never really finding it. Because it is back home.

Home is also where you discover you really aren’t all that and that you have to take all these big lessons, experiences and adventures and cram them back into a little box and get back to work. Because you are only as good as the outcome of your next game. And whatever you may or may not have accomplished out there in the big world, home doesn’t care much. Home only cares that you carry on doing the things that make made this place… home.

I am so happy to be home.

By Tom Demerly.

20100617_poverty_33  Is our lower class truly poor? Or, is there a cultural shift in expectations that create a conspicuously affluent, but fundamentally impoverished lower class?

The answer points to an important idea: We need to re-orient our society to value education, initiative and personal responsibility and de-emphasize conspicuous consumption and government support of basic necessities.

The United States is in an accelerating crisis that is creating more economic distance between an affluent upper class and a growing “lower class”.

Consider these oddly disparate statistics:

  • 88% of Americans own a cell phone, with 56% owning a smart phone.[i]
  • “Nearly 90% of Americans now own a computer, MP3 player, game console, e-book reader, cell phone, or tablet computer.”[ii]
  • “95% of Americans own a car…”[iii]
  • 15.4% of people in the U.S. were uninsured [in 2012].[iv]
  • “75% of Americans don’t have enough savings to cover their bills for six months.”[v]

Our lower class is often measured by income and employment statistics. But is our lower class truly poor? Or, is a part of the current crisis a cultural shift in expectations that create a conspicuously affluent but fundamentally impoverished lower class? Does a portion of our lower class spend money on the wrong things? And, if so, how could that change?

There is an argument that the U.S. has the richest- and most underemployed- lower class in the world. Our lower class has privately owned cars, cell phones and non-utilitarian clothing but lacks education, savings and healthcare. They have some of the icing but little of the cake. As a result our society must prop up the foundation of personal financial responsibility by subsidizing necessities like food, medical care, housing, education and retirement.

By contrast Forbes reports that China’s personal savings rate is the highest in the world.[vi] One reason, according to both Forbes and the BBC, is that China subsidizes few truly useful social programs. The Chinese must fund their own retirement. China does not yet have national social security legislation.[vii] And despite numerous other Chinese social programs the emerging Chinese middle class and larger, accelerating lower class still feel the need to save money for a rainy day according to one BBC report.

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On the back of a manufacturing economy bolstered by consumers in the west, Chinese are saving more money than any nation while Americans are saving less.

This is ominous as it puts the U.S. at a strategic disadvantage to China in the economic sector. This also increases U.S. social reliance on government administration of vital programs, a paradigm that has significant risk given the federal government’s weak balance sheet. In short, it weakens our country, not only exclusively, but more dramatically in comparison to our global economic competitors.

“The Affordable Care Act doesn’t provide health care for the poor; it provides financial care for the healthcare industry.”

An additional concern about our current social and governmental direction is that programs like the Affordable Care Act don’t provide health care for the poor; it provides financial care for the healthcare industry. Unlike the federal government’s bailout of the auto industry in 2008-10 there is little provision for a return on investment or any remuneration from the ACA. Its current configuration requires the costs of administration but little revenue stream for administrators. The government becomes a billing agent for private healthcare and pharmaceuticals.

We need to change the direction of America toward valuing the things we’ve discounted over these previous two decades; access to education, quality of education, valuing teachers as pivotal contributors to our nation’s future. We need to teach and reward personal responsibility and initiative. Wealth is not measured by possessions but by capability, output and income.

By Tom Demerly.

Like a modern James Dean, Paul Walker starred in hot rod movies, lived his character and tragically died as his character.

Like a modern James Dean, Paul Walker starred in hot rod movies, lived his character and tragically died as his character.

Paul Walker, a modern day James Dean, died tragically in a fiery car accident Saturday in Valencia, California at age 40. The parallels between his life and predecessor “B” movie film icon James Dean are uncanny.

The “B” movie hot rod genre and male heartthrob is as much a cliche as the tragic, too early death of both Walker and Dean.

Walker was a modern day James Dean.

Walker was a modern day James Dean.

Walker stared in the Fast and Furious series of action movies that brought back hot rodding in the form of modern “tuner” cars and introduced a generation to the bad-boy car movie. The poodle skirts and drive-ins have been replaced by yoga pants and Uggs at the local megaplex, but the theme of hot cars, hot boys and hot girls has stayed rock solid. Now the ending is even the same.

Walker was oddly perfect in his roles. In Into The Blue Walker was perfect as the buff beach and dive bum who courted a ravishing Jessica Alba and found a fortune in lost drug money under the waves. The cute little movie is fun and captivating. It’s cheesy appeal spans all age categories and melts the heart of even the snootiest critic. Walker’s movies are a guilty pleasure.

"Into the Blue" was sexy, adventurous and romantic. A perfect role for Walker.

“Into the Blue” was sexy, adventurous and romantic. A perfect role for Walker.

Walker created an aspirational look that included natural handsomeness, an easy surf-dude persona and an incredible build. His acting was convincing and real in the roles he played best, the hot-guy hard man who was an outward bad-boy come hero.

His loss is a significant one as he showed promise and versatility that may have suited new roles well. It is a sad, tragic loss that cements him as legend, will vault his films into recirculation but tragically takes his niche’ talent from us way too soon and way before he was able to share more of his gifts for character and drama.

By Tom Demerly.

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Here we go; Holiday Shopping Season. Black Friday, Cyber Monday. This is the 25-day period when retailers earn their net profit for the year and consumers do most of their buying.

Before the gun goes off this Thursday at midnight (and even before) let’s take a brief look at what customers should demand in the post-recession economy.

There are more retailers and fewer customers than any time since the early 1980’s according to industry expert Mark Ellwood, author of Bargain Fever; How to Shop in a Discounted World. That means you have more choices and retailers have to get it right.  The margin for error- literally and figuratively- is razor thin. A well-run retailer is doing well to earn 1% net profit on gross sales after all expenses at the end of the year. Also, this year, the holiday shopping season is unusually short, only 25 days, because of Thanksgiving’s proximity to Christmas on the calendar.

Stores, both online and brick and mortar, have two major tools to earn sales: Great customer service and lowest price. A wide spectrum exists between these extremes and some especially skilled retailers manage to combine the two. Whether you aspire to the Tiffany’s personal shopping experience or a Walmart elbow-throwing, door-busting footrace to the big screen aisle these are the minimum standards you should expect as a customer:

1.    You should be treated as a Lady or Gentlemen.

You’re giving away hard-earned money at the end of the worst recession in history. You’re not a number, not a commodity. You’re not easily replaceable. Life long retailer and founder of the quirky, niche specialty retailer Harry’s Army Surplus in Dearborn, Michigan, Irv Zeltzer, said it best, “Every dollar has 100 cents”.  To earn that precious 100 cents retailers should treat you with respect and reverence. Retailers should value you.

2.    You Deserve to be Waited On.

Remember when clerks waited on you? Good service means there are employees or well-designed online resources to find out information and help you with buying decisions. This is a key feature since it adds value and savings to a purchase by reducing costly errors and returns. Your time is tangibly valuable. A sales associate or web resource that helps you make a faster, wiser purchase saves you time, and time is money.  Smart retailers also know good customer service reduces returns and adds to sales and profits.

3.    You Deserve Honesty and Openness in Pricing.

There are a lot of pricing shenanigans this time of year, triple and quadruple mark-downs, fine print, weird return policies, coupons, membership buying. Straightforward pricing is a key tool to understanding the value of a purchase. Beware of convoluted pricing schemes. Remember, the time it takes you to figure out if a deal is any good just cost you something more valuable than money; it cost you your time.

4.    You Deserve Good Service After the Sale.

Retailers should do “back end” planning for their post-holiday returns and customer service. The staff should know the policies and be empowered to make decisions. Lines shouldn’t be long and waits to make returns should be short. Retailers have a great opportunity to retain customers and earn new ones with great service after the sale. They need to get this right. It will bring in customers during the other 345 days of the year.

Customers fall into a trap of using price as the measurement of quality in a retail transaction. Good value is about more than markdowns and low prices. If you are focused on what you deserve as a customer before you line up on Friday morning you’ll have a better shopping experience this season.

By Tom Demerly.

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Random Notes and Key Things I’ve learned so Far:

1. Life:

  • Friends and community are more important than we realize. Much more.
  • My Mom was right; travel really is the most opulent luxury.
  • I am not like other people. When I try to be, I am sad and look foolish.
  • Be gentle with people- both people who are kind and people who are mean to you.
  • You will have enemies. Don’t let it bother you. If you weren’t trying, you wouldn’t be making some people mad.
  • Most people who don’t like you envy your courage and are afraid themselves.
  • Be understanding of those people, their fears are real to them.
  • Difficulty can make you a better person if you decide to let it.
  • One of the smartest people I ever met, my friend Kim, told me “successful people are usually just the last to give up.” She is right.
  • It’s true. You will fail.
  • Failure sucks.
  • Not trying is worse than failure.
  • Try again.
  • Never stop learning, never lose the “beginner’s mind”.
  • If you know you are right about something and try to convince someone, but their own beliefs prevent them from listening, don’t force it. Let them be.
  • Make good choices but do make choices. Don’t be paralyzed by indecision.
  • You think you are the only person suffering when you suffer. You aren’t.
  • You can learn a lot about a person by how they treat animals and children.
  • Two key quotes:
    • “We each create our own reality” Arthur C. Clarke.
    • “Between stimulus and response is our greatest freedom; choice.” Steven Covey.

2. Love:

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  • You are lucky if you have one true love, you will also likely lose them, but you are always better for having had them.
  • Always treasure the people who have brought true love and beauty into your life. Be a respectful friend to them forever. Revel in their new relationships and happiness. Stay friends with them unless they are cruel to you, in which case, just let them be.
  • When you truly love someone the thing you want most is for her to be happy and safe. You want that more than your selfish desire for them.
  • Have the courage to walk away from a relationship that is bad and never look back. Never be afraid to be alone.
  • It is better to be in a good relationship with yourself than a rotten one with some one else.
  • Great sex is about way more than the physical act.
  • Take a good, close look at her; she is more beautiful than you (and she) realize.
  • Beauty has almost nothing to do with looks.
  • The greatest luxury in a relationship is staying in it simply because you want to be there, no other reason.

3. The Military and Conflict:

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  • Never underestimate the human capacity for cruelty. People are the most dangerous animals.
  • There are three important truisms in the military; 1. Your training will keep you alive. 2. In the military world, your comrades are your first priority. 3. When your enemy is subdued, treat them with dignity and humanity.
  • Train relentlessly and realistically. Your training will save your life and insure the success of your mission.
  • Do not dwell on the awful things you’ve been through. Hold them at arms’ length, let them go, forgive them and yourself.
  • If you live in a safe place, protect that. It is rare on this earth.
  • Learn the skills of war, hold them as precious, but do not flaunt them or revel in them. They are an ugly but necessary set of tools.
  • When an enemy dies, do not celebrate. Instead, pray for them and ask forgiveness.
  • The least painful way to learn is from history. History is a free lesson, a way to learn from the suffering and loss of previous men. Never stop learning, studying and analyzing history; its cost was high but it is free to keep.
  • Be kind and respectful of people who have a disdain for the military.
  • Being a soldier, a guardian of peace, is one of life’s highest honors.
  • Wars fought over money, resources, politics and territory can be resolved. Wars over religion never end until one side is completely annihilated and their history erased.

4. Business and Money:

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  • See: “War and Conflict” above.
  • The Arabic proverb, “Do business as strangers, socialize as brothers” is good.
  • Pride has no place in business.
  • Trust that if you do a good job and devote yourself, you will be successful.
  • Even when (not if) you fail, if you have done the above, you have a basis for a new beginning.
  • Don’t try to bend the rules; it will bite you in the ass.
  • Your ass is going to have some tooth marks.
  • Pay yourself last.
  • Treat your employees well. Pay them first. Protect and honor them.
  • Respecting your employees as important human beings is as important as paying them, sometimes more so.
  • A harsh reality is that money does buy happiness. You can use it to help other people, keep yourself safe and healthy, travel and help animals. In the human world money is security.
  • Don’t trust banks. They are a business, a necessary tool.
  • Don’t be mean to or distrust the government or the IRS. They are people trying to do a difficult and unpopular job with few resources and huge bureaucracy. Be empathetic toward them.
  • The smarter you are the more successful you will be.
  • Learn from your mistakes. You’ll pay for them, you may as well use them.
  • Every dollar has 100 cents in it.
  • Every business is a nickel and dime business. There are no “small” losses.
  • Treat every day as your first day in business, and remember it could also be your last.
  • Failure always arrives before you think it will and is always a surprise.
  • In retrospect, failure and success both seem obvious.
  • Always call your customers “Sir” and “Ma’am”. It sets and maintains the tone of the customer/business relationship. It says you are doing business.
  • Save more money than you think you will ever need. Money is a tool.

By Tom Demerly.

tom52

I turn 52 today. I worried about that. Getting old. I decided to stop worrying about it. Instead I decided to worry about not living. I decided to stop looking into the rear view mirror of life and saying, “I remember when I…” instead of saying, “Right now I am…”

I was most worried about not doing things anymore. That scared me about aging. About being too old. Then I decided to stop worrying and just keep doing things. It really is that simple.

There is a physical element to aging. I’ve had three knee surgeries, a broken back, too many broken left arms to remember, a broken right arm and hand, eye surgery; heart surgery, a stroke and I have a cardiac implant. Those things affect me a little, and they are a badge of experience; a life well lived. An active life. So I work around them. And the more I do the less of an issue they are. They are not a reason to stare in the rear view mirror looking at what is behind me. They are a reason to keep moving, keep doing, keep living. Because there is no denying some day something will catch up to me that will have a limiting factor on living. Until then, it’s a race to get as much stuff done as I can. There are people who, at 52, are so much less capable than I am. Actually, there are people at 23 who are.

An embarrassing element of aging is beginning to understand how stupid I was when I was younger. In my thirties I knew everything. It was amazing how smart and successful I was. Good looking too. I was wrong of course, but I thought I was quite impressive at the time. Now I know better. Some of the errors of judgment I made still sting pretty badly. The only thing I can do about those errors is own them and not make them again. Some people say they have no regrets. They must not have taken many chances. I have plenty of regrets. I’ve also taken a lot of chances. That I don’t regret. I still have time to take more. I guess I don’t regret that I have regrets. Is that possible?

The good news about being older is we may be truly smarter. Most of us. I hope. The greatest fear I live with is not learning something from my mistakes. The fear of repeating them. As a result I remind myself of them often. Another risk is being fixated on what I did wrong. Not having the confidence to take on more risk, and do it wisely tempered against what I’ve learned from experience. I suppose that’s called “good judgment”.

One of the lessons I’ve learned is that, like the lyric in the Pearl Jam song, “…that what you fear the most will meet you half way…” failure has a way of finding you if you live your life to avoid it. In the cruelest irony if you navigate life to a warm, comfortable death bed with no regrets, no mistakes then there is a tendency to realize, in your final moments, that you could have done more. That is the cruelest regret. I don’t have that one.

By Tom Demerly.

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Contrary to popular belief, rich people don’t cause other people to be poor. That’s a feeble excuse for our national condition.

There is a sentiment that the distribution of wealth in the United States, as inequitable as it is, comes from the wealthy “keeping the little man down”.  To horde disproportionate amounts of wealth- taking it from the backs of Walmart workers.

That’s wrong.  We’re not victims, we’re Americans. “The Man” isn’t keeping us down. That’s just an excuse. It’s us who let us down, and I am a perfect example.

I started and owned a successful business for over 16 years. Then lost everything. I lost my savings, my house, my car, my belongings, my income, my employees, my business, even my health… everything. There were circumstances that contributed to my loss. But ultimately I am the one responsible. Part of the proof is that two friends of mine in the same area and the same industry survived the recession. They survived because they made better decisions than me. They are better businessmen than me.

I am a reason why America failed during this last decade. There are a lot of “me” out there.

There is a reason to own this. Until we own the recession, the mortgage crisis, the banking collapse- unless we own these disasters, on an individual basis, we cannot correct them. We won’t truly recover.

The first step to correcting any problem is owning it. Taking responsibility for it. We need to take a painful and specific look at where we made bad decisions individually that led to our financial hardship. Once we understand how we got here, on an individual basis, we can get out, on an individual basis. America is built on the backs of individuals, and it fell on the backs of individuals who let it down. Guys like me.

Dearborn, Michigan, 2009 on Michigan Ave.

Abandoned businesses, downtown Dearborn, Michigan in 2009 on Michigan Ave.

What did I do wrong? Too much credit, not enough saving. Poor planning. Relying on the fact that money was easy to make and would always be easy to make. Becoming complacent, assuming business would always be good. Trusting the wrong institutions and people. Not saving enough for a rainy day. Beginning to think that earning a living was easy and success was common. Ignoring the basics. Never planning for a downturn in business. Those are some of the general mistakes I made. When you apply those mistakes to a huge company like General Motors before their bankruptcy, the banks before their collapse and the real estate market you see how these behaviors rippled from the individual through our entire culture. It was a house of cards. When the wind finally blew it didn’t need to blow very hard for it to topple.

So what now?

First, we need to own the problem on an individual basis. Look at how we failed. Individually, collectively. Then, with that knowledge, return to the basics of saving and building, working and taking risk, thinking and innovating. Our economic system, as chaotic as it seems, rewards risk and hard work with opulent success and penalizes failure with ruthless disregard and gut-wrenching impunity. It also rewards us with a second chance. It isn’t easy, in fact it is extremely difficult. My life these past few years has been more difficult than I care to share. It’s humiliating. Our system does work though. It provides a level of opportunity, however abrasive and difficult to achieve, that is nearly unmatched in the world. This is the greatest country, the land of opportunity, but it is also a ruthless arbiter.

It demands we own our past before we can earn our future. But our system also forgives.

In my case that meant a lot of tough years. Now I am certain I’ll never make these mistakes again. I’m thankful for a country that allows me to start again with what I’ve learned, no matter how difficult it is. That is the American way.