Saving Face or Saving Your Ass!

Introduction

As a writer, I frequently share with you my opinion on many different issues, of interest to me, at the state, federal and international level. I would be remiss not to say something about the nation’s largest environmental disaster occurring right here in my backyard along the Alabama Gulf Coast, British Petroleum’s (BP) still leaking oil well, at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. I can think of no better example to illustrate my next essay. Just like with this crisis, airplane crash experts now tell us that the cause of a small private airplane or a commercial jetliner falling out of the sky isn’t the result of a single action taken or not taken by the captain and crew, but instead a series of actions taken in the 24 to 48 hours leading up to the accident, itself.

In the case of the Deepwater Horizon, a similar pattern is emerging in the form of critical operational mistakes made on the rig and corporate negligence at the highest levels prior to the methane gas explosion and the inferno that killed eleven workers while consuming the $500 million oil rig before sending it to its watery grave. An accident or crisis’ history (or tail) could be weeks, months, years or even decades, in the making, before an undetected flaw or a long denied cover-up finally surfaces when colliding with reality’s brick wall, at a given day and time. This actually happens all the time, in our lives, just not on this grand scale.

From birth to death, life is simply a series of actions or inactions taken in response to a succession of events occurring over the course of a lifetime. How we respond to each of these events will determine how many positive outcomes or negative ones we’ll have while influencing or dictating how we’ll respond, either, out of fear or out of faith (taking risk), to the very next problem or crisis that arises. This ultimately affects our quality of life, it determines whether we’ll grow up – emotionally and spiritually mature, feel happy and free, find our talents and purpose while reaching our destiny and living out our best life. The stakes are real and very high. It’s a tall task for everyone, both, rich and poor, black and white, male and female. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to getting into this end zone only illusions. Sadly, most of us give up long before ever getting started.

What determines whether you’ll live a happy life or a miserable one comes down to your tools, for living life on life’s terms, which are, either, sitting in or missing from your “toolbox.” Assuming you own an actual toolbox for the odd jobs and home improvement projects around the house, you know that each tool has a specific job and rarely works in place of another tool. For example: A hammer is a piece of standard equipment found in most toolboxes. It’s used to drive steel nails under great force to hold, in place, two objects, a handsaw is another commonly owned tool that is used to cut objects down to size, such as, wood, metal or plastic while pliers serve to loosen or tighten nuts on bolts and screws. Each tool has a unique role, a hammer can’t cut a board in half with the same efficiency or precision as a saw nor can it tighten or loosen a nut on a bolt or screw and vice versa. The right tool for the job leads to the best chance for success while using the wrong tool is most likely to lead to failure and frustration.

Our happiness, our joy in life is directly related to having a complete set of tools in life’s toolbox and knowing, through, either, intuition or from past experience, what is the right tool for the job. Unlike the toolbox containing our hammers, saws, measuring tapes and screw drivers, I am talking about a set of spiritual tools for living. Most of us were handed a set of beliefs, a way of thinking, social etiquette, rules and values by our parents, the church, our schools and our community that were most often driven out of fear rather than faith, out of slavery or, lost power, rather than freedom. The maturation process got interrupted by sheltering or isolating us, as children, from what’s really taking place inside the family, inside their marriage or from feeling pain and suffering due to life’s scrapes and bruises occurring in the neighborhood, at school, on the playground or at church.

What started out as good-intentions, by our parents, teachers and preachers, ends up backfiring because they interrupt our natural development for being honest, for problem-solving, forming much needed inner discipline and patience, keeping or reclaiming our personal power, risk taking (growing faith), which impacts our confidence, self-esteem gained from living in reality. Instead, the façade of a chameleon was created and we learned to change “our colors” to please the present company, friend or foe, including authority figures resulting in an emptiness that never leaves us until we have the courage to face those childhood fears, our painful past by being open to everyday life, which leads to a slow transformation to wholeness, to health, to sanity. Coming from a place of fear and navigating through life with these handed down beliefs system never worked for us anymore than it worked for our parents or their parents, but that’s all they had to work with. They did their best and we’re doing ours. The art of living has been lost and for sometime, now. Out of convenience, lies replace hard facts. It may feel good allowing us to avoid immediate conflict, now, but it usually comes at a terribly high emotional, spiritual, mental, physical and/or financial price, later.

In the case of BP, the world now knows that the oil giant came to the Gulf of Mexico, to explore for more sources of oil, at great depths and at great risk, with the wrong set of tools and it’s costing them and the coastal residents and businesses, dearly. And no one is happy!

An update: One year ago, I wrote the essay, “Why is your life so empty?”, in response to my observations and frustrations regarding the shallow comments being posted continuously by old classmates, friends, acquaintances and even strangers in my Facebook community. My commentary was well-received by some in this audience and from members of another social networking site. While I get only a minuscule amount of web traffic on my blog, www.toxicnation.blogspot.com, this piece has slowly moved up into second place in popularity, over the past year, due to the number of almost daily hits that I continue to get. I find it surprising or maybe troubling that so many people, many Americans, are searching the Internet, for answers, using some combination of this phrase. To date (6/21/10), I have had 437 hits total, 242 coming from the USA and the balance coming from 44 other countries. The comments on my Facebook community keep coming and they remain unchanged. Oh well.

Note: Since the last commentary, “Ashoka Foundation”, I have added more professors to this audience. Among this group are faculty at the Ludwig Von Mises Institute (based in Auburn, AL, USA), at the University of Pennsylvania, at the University of Cambridge (UK) including its Faculty of Law and at the University of Oxford (UK) and its Faculty of Law.

N > 6,600

Enjoy!
Ted

Note: The following commentary was originally intended as a letter to a UK-based consulting firm that I have an interest in going to work for on a contractual (or part-time) basis (6-12 month) so I can tour Europe. With a mediocre resume including my academic transcript, a mostly unspeakable work history in sales and no real credentials, to speak of, prior to this writing endeavor. I’ve struggled to land a fellowship, in the past three years. This effort is a change in strategy or course heading.

With this latest piece, I hope to show off my problem-solving skills, thinking and writing talents in an effort to overcome my resume’s glaring deficiencies while shining like a new rising star. Naturally, the letter turned into an essay. I’ve given this topic great thought over the past twenty-one years. It, as much as anything else, has helped to shape my moral character. I have tried unsuccessful to explain this guiding principle to friends and strangers, alike, for many years. This is my first attempt to put it down in writing. Too few individuals, families, organizations and governments live and die by it. As a result, we’re all paying for it, as individuals and as a society.

And finally, I just finished reading with great pleasure The Four-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. This Princeton graduate and entrepreneur encourages frequent mini-retirement vacations, months, at a time, as opposed to the usual one or two weeks each year, while we’re still working over waiting to live out our dreams upon retirement. As a writer, I’ve come to embrace my own version of this lifestyle for the past three-years, but I’ve been limited in my travels due to income. My current work schedule provides me with several weeks of downtime between commentaries, which I thoroughly enjoy. It also gives me the capacity to pick up some more work and money. That hasn’t happened, yet. Hopefully, this consulting opportunity or something like it will materialize.

In the following essay, all names have been changed.

See the attachment: Saving Face or Saving Your Ass!

June 13, 2010

Saving Face or Saving Your Ass!

By

Ted Burnett

Dear “Dr. Smith” and “Mr. Miller”,

Following a recent email exchange with “Peter Crosby”, I am contacting the two of you seeking an opportunity to work with your firm on, either, a temporary or contract basis (6-12 months), in a capacity to be determined. I am an American thought leader, philosopher and writer on business, political, social and spiritual matters, at the state, national and global level. Since 2007, I’ve produced a monthly commentary and freely share them with a growing international audience that now exceeds 6,600 contacts (mostly academia).

Among the group are over 5,000 professors teaching, in five to eight different programs and schools, at twenty-eight world-class universities in ten countries (the US, the UK, Ireland, France, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Some of these top-tier schools include Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Princeton, Stanford, Berkeley, Cambridge, Oxford, the London School of Economics, École normale supérieure–Paris… (See my biography for a list of top schools and American notables.)

Much of what I write about are on the subjects of human, organizational and society development and health, the role that integrity, dignity and sanity plays, spirituality, truth, faith, freedom and happiness. While I continue to develop this strong passion of mine and build a worldwide following, I’m want to see Europe while working with an EU consulting firm that shares my values.

These principles weren’t instilled in me, nicely and neatly, in the safety and comfort of my home, church and schools, as a child, but instead they’re developed at the school of hard knocks, on life’s mean streets where I was forced to finally face my own character defects in response to my handling or frequent mishandling of life’s problems and later some major crises. What began at the age of eighteen continues well into my late thirties. I view myself as a work in progress. Through trial and error, I have grown from being a very immature and fearful boy into becoming a wise man in every sense of the word.

I have slowly regained my once lost integrity, dignity and sanity. I have reclaimed 100% of my personal power while developing discipline and much needed patience. I am a free man who’s free to speak my mind about anything to anyone and live my life in whatever fashion that best suits me. I am happy.

I’ve been knocked down more than once and I’ve learned to get back up every time and stronger. Along the way, faith and courage have replaced fear and doubt. My personal limitations have been shattered, like glass; the sky is now the limit. Talents have finally surfaced, maybe genius, too. I have discovered and come to enjoy what not one single alumnus from Harvard, Yale, Oxford or Cambridge knows or enjoys in their daily life because this education can’t be bought. It has to be lived, it has to be experienced. I have what no living American President or British Prime Minister enjoys in their daily life because this isn’t ego power, this power is real. It comes from the same strand of DNA as history’s many greats.

In my youthful formation, I was given a set of beliefs by well-meaning folks. However, much of what I was told didn’t work when it came to dealing with adversity. They’re teachings proved to be artificial, hollow and ineffective while almost always resulting in the piercing of my integrity and dignity. I became thin-skinned and vulnerable to any and all criticism, which my ego didn’t like. I went insane. These family, Catholic school and church values were simply a toolbox without any tools. Praying my problems away, bargaining with God, using superstition, telling lies, using my fists or getting angry to intimate or scare away “problems” sometimes worked, but most times they didn’t.

As a teenager, I discovered alcohol and consumed increasing quantities of beer, over time, to maintain this drug’s effectiveness. During my junior of high school and heavy into my addiction, I found alcohol to no longer work. Rather than try a harder substance, a cry for help soon landed me in Alcoholics Anonymous. This spiritual program speaks of three basic ideas – rigorous honesty, open-mindedness and a willingness to change, on a daily basis. I tried to adhere to all three for twenty-one years, now. Above all was the borrowed phrase, “To thy own self be true”, which resonated in my core. This spirituality spoke of a freedom that Catholicism never once offered in my first eighteen years. I’ve never returned except to attend an occasional wedding and funeral.

With a small spirit and an even bigger ego, I was a very sick person, emotionally and spiritually. I was a full-blown hypocrite who dreamed of mighty ideals, but was unable to offer a sincere apology to my fellow man. I stumbled a lot, in the beginning. A late night tryst with a female led to a character assassination of her in order to protect my version of events and my reputation in the eyes of friends. Unforeseen was how quickly my story got back to her and we soon had a he said, she said on our hands. The truth got trashed. I was terribly embarrassed about the situation and how fast it had unfolded. My lies caught up with me, in what seemed like seconds. While I‘ve never laid eyes on her again, I still have her on a list of those that I owe an apology to. It was a great teaching moment and I’ve never forgotten. I was corrupt, insane and for that I can forgive myself for my hurtful actions to her and move on.

From this event and others, I quickly came to see that all problems were addressed in one of two ways. First, one could take the easy way out, in the name of “Saving Face”, avoiding (or denying), at all cost, a problem(s) existence altogether by attempting to out run it for days, weeks, months, years or for a lifetime, all the while, hoping it never catches up, with you, and bites you in the derrière.

Applying this method to problems usually results in there being little or no upfront cost with a solid lie (denial), but unknowingly a “truth” meter starts running, and only gets faster with time and louder in one’s mind. It doesn’t stop until the issue is finally confronted and the tab is paid in full. Once a lie is told it becomes “reality” in the minds of all present. The story has to be continually retold until the individual is confronted with the truth. Periodically, the symptom(s) of the problem may, unexpectedly, rear its ugly head requiring lots of time, money and energy to suppress them. It becomes so costly – spiritually, emotionally, mentally, physically and ultimately financially extracting a heavy toll with lots of, either, private or public humiliation, pain and suffering.

In the end, it would have been much easier and cheaper to have dealt with the matter once it became first known, but the ego refuses to acknowledge unpleasant truths and perceives all bad news to be a disgrace and a hit to one’s reputation. The ego’s constant obsession with perfection is its fatal flaw and serves as an indicator of there being a psychological problem. The ego has lost all touch with humanity – no love or compassion for oneself or others. This is the preferred method among society’s many fools. This is the common downward spiral taken in dealing with, both, personal and organization problems and crises, alike, but not for everyone. I also learned this approach to avoiding problems from watching my parents, my own actions, the Catholic Church, among others while growing up, as a child and as an adult.

The wise come to learn through similar humiliation, pain and suffering and from listening to the experience of others on how to approach problems and crises, differently. Rather than continuing to “Save Face”, for pride’s sake, and leave one’s backside exposed to imminent danger the wise learn to “Save Your Ass”, (SYA) first, even at the expense of Saving Face or one’s ego. This is achieved by charting a new course instead of trying to out run the storm and hope it never catches up. The wise become wise by turning the bow of their ship straight into the storm and sailing right through it. They come to learn the value of “taking the hit” to their pride and coming clean, upfront, rather than putting it off until later. The cost to one’s pride, wasting time, energy and/or finances is an enormous trade off along with quickly moving pass the trouble and soon regaining serenity to the eventuality of taking a much bigger and certain hit, later.

This is a very scary tactic to apply on one’s first attempts and it can still be challenging, at anytime, even for the seasoned problem solver. An approaching storm can appear to be very big, dark and intimidating stirring up its rough waters producing lots of fears of being swamped and left to die, out at sea. With sufficient courage, the momentum is usually enough to sail through any size storm and make it out on the other side where the seas become calm and the sun reappears. The voyage is sometimes quick, sometimes slow. Surviving leads to new found strength for the captain and crew, alike, as they bail out their vessel before sailing onward.

“Saving Your Ass” (SYA) should never be confused with “Cover Your Ass” (CYA). There’s a big difference between the two. SYA is an ego-deflation process, where repeatedly taking responsibility, for your part, leads to emotional and spiritual growth and slowly, over time, develops strong moral character including humility. CYA, like Saving Face, is an ego-inflation process revealing one’s lack of character through their repeated acts of dishonesty, denial, irresponsibility while leaving oneself exposed spiritually, emotionally, mentally, physically, financially and/or legally and always deferring blame to others. The initial cost for taking responsibility (SYA), for “doing the next right thing” by facing a problem can be very high including losing Your Face or reputation in the eyes of others, your career, your job, your marriage and friendships, your money, if its criminal, possibility jail or prison, but once the issue has been honestly confronted it never has to be readdressed, ever again! It no longer has the power to weigh us down. The lessons and consequences learned from this one exercise are huge, if repeated. Saving Face, on other hand, keeps oneself from ever looking at their actions, in any matter, from ever growing up, from ever maturing.

So, do you operate in the short-run and defer all problems for later or do you operate in the long-run living in reality and facing all opportunities or crises as they are presented? Do you want to be constantly changing course, in a sea of chaos, or due to the latest trends? Do you want to move away from that way of living for calmer seas and a clearer eye on True North? Saving Face leaves no room for growing up thus being selfish and insane prevails. Saving Your Ass is the only pathway to truth, to wisdom.

Only a few people and organizations will ever learn the value of taking this route, every time, with all present and future opportunities. This repeated action leads to health and to sanity while insuring against telling another lie or a dark secret from staining the fabric of one’s being, of one’s integrity. The first step to responding to any crisis is to ask, are you trying to Save Face, are you trying to save your reputation at the expense of your integrity, your assets or are you trying to Save Your Ass, are you trying to protect your assets while worrying about your image for another day? How do you know, which choice you are making? Are you in it for the short run or for the long run?

Saving Face is worrying about what people think of you, today. That’s living in the short run while neglecting one’s personal responsibilities. The long run is acting to save oneself or maybe a child, hooked on drugs, from killing themselves regardless of how it might appear to family and friends. Addiction has a stigma, but that can be dealt with later after getting one’s son or daughter the needed help. Saving Face requires no action except telling a lie and sticking to that story. Saving Your Ass requires taking risk, telling the truth or maybe asking for help. Ask yourself are you in – denial, anger, bargaining, depression or acceptance. This is known as the five stages of grief (Kubler-Ross model). Ultimately, you have to be in acceptance of a situation in order to face it and to take responsibility for your part. The quicker one can move from a place of denial to acceptance, the quicker that one can move through the problem and beyond.

Values of honesty, integrity, faith, health begin to develop replacing fears, laziness, excuses, procrastination and sickness. Dignity, self-esteem and self-worth grow as honest living leads to a clear conscience replacing low moral character, guilt, hypocrisy, shame, denial, pain, suffering and a handful of bad habits or addictions to mask it all. Spiritual, emotional, financial, mental (sanity) and physical health begins to slowly return as honesty and personal accountability grows from having a conscience to experiencing full awareness, consciousness (moving on a scale of integrity: 0-50% to 51-100%).

We become humans again and are no longer robots or puppets on a string, to be jerked around. We are natural and are no longer artificial or actors, we’re no longer slaves to our drugs, to material things or in our relationships with others. We now experience freedom. We reclaim our humanity and rejoin the human race for we’re alive. We see our role in society and in God’s entire kingdom. Our world grows from a small zip code, city, state, country to its actual size of 27,000 miles, in circumference plus the Heavens. We look beyond manmade labels and embrace everyone, all six billion people. We make peace with our fellow man, with nature, with God and with ourselves.

After twenty-one years, this is how I have come to see our world. It’s the same one that I write about and share with my group. While I find myself in the minority in my outlook and my work is in relative obscurity, I’ve come to know that I’m in good company.

Spirituality is a thread that’s shot through all of life, thus all problems have a spiritual solution. So, do you want to face reality, face the truth and quickly resolve a problem, a crisis or spend the next day, week, month, year, decades or a lifetime hoping it doesn’t come back to bite you?

I am a big picture thinker, always looking for the end zone and then developing a strategy to get the ball down the field so I can score. I look at most problems with their trailing history in mind, from all directions even observing any personal bais while searching for an honest, long-term and cost-effective solution ever so humbly. This view is backed by lots of experience – blood, sweat and tears. I know it works.

In 2002, I had a breakthrough moment, in my life, which resulted in me developing exceptional thinking capacity and creative writing skills. The change was so dramatic that I took an IQ test just to confirm it. I scored a 142, a forty-point upswing. Now with three years of honest writing, my audience retention rate now surpasses 99.8% (as of 5/10).

In February 2008, I discovered Traci Fenton, the founder and CEO of WorldBlu while she was visiting my adopted hometown, Fairhope, AL, USA, giving a speech to the local chamber of commerce. I was so moved by what I read, on a posted flyer, about Traci and her work that I immediately tried to contact her while adding her email address to my audience. She’s been getting my commentaries ever since. It was from visiting her website that I learned of your firm.

In closing, where would BP be, if it had chosen to address with honesty its troubled oil well operation, in the days and weeks, leading up to the gas explosion on the Deepwater Horizon? Where would Toyota be had they faced with courage their gas pedal recall long before it ever grew to some 9 million vehicles (worldwide) while being forced to temporarily halt the sale of their brand new cars and trucks sitting on the lots of their dealerships, nationwide? What immediate impact did their slow response have on, both, their cherished reputation for quality, safety and their quarterly and yearly sales? What impact has the United States paid for its decision to start two simultaneous wars against Iraq and Al-Qaeda/Taliban in Afghanistan in response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11? The wars seemed to make sense way back then, but as time has passed, do they still? We’ve now spent a trillion dollars on each war while causing lots of death and destruction. Could we have done something else with our time, money and energy achieve a better outcome? How better off might your life be, now, if you would’ve faced one of your still unresolved problems or crises from the past?

Pay now or pay later, but you will surely pay!

References:

Toyota Vehicle Recall
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2009%E2%80%932010_Toyota_vehicle_recalls

Copyright © 2010. All Rights Reserved. “Save Face or Save Your Ass?” by Ted Burnett.

I am available for speaking, consulting and political advising. My other essays can be viewed at my blog – http://www.toxicnation.blogspot.com/. I can be contacted via email at – tebjr1@yahoo.com. My bio can be viewed at http://www.tedburnettresume.blogspot.com.

I'm an American thought leader and pioneer on the subjects of human, organizational and societal development and health. I write about the role that integrity, dignity, sanity play, as well as, on the topics of spirituality, faith, freedom, happiness, problem solving and risk taking. I produce and deliver original, world-class commentaries on business, political, social and spiritual matters to a global audience of world leaders, chief executives and key decision makers, top faculty and notables in the fields of academia, banking, business, foundations, government (including heads of state, lawmakers and governors), healthcare, media, non-profits and policy institutes. Website: www.thesageofmobile.com