Saturday, September 22, 2012

Living Free in an Unfree World – Are You Free?

What a powerful word – FREE! You can hardly listen to a TV or radio newscast or commentator or go a day without watching or listening to commercials or reading a print or Internet ad or promotion or listening to anyone campaigning for an elected office in a “FREE” World country without hearing the word F R E E and related words like freedom and liberty. I dare say that it has likely surpassed the word “love” by a long shot in its many definitions in common usage. And I would suggest that in popular American vernacular it rivals another “F” word in common language. Naw! On second thought, I think the more crude “F” word far surpasses the Free “F” word in daily use. Not a great commentary on how our language is slipping. However, that’s part and parcel of the “freedom of speech” we hear repeated so often in this second decade of the 21st Century.

It is said that the word “free” is the most powerful word in our (and probably any) language. Certainly, in marketing it has always been considered the most important word. A few examples include “free shipping,” “buy one and get one free,” “free trial,” buy this book and get $1,000.00 of free bonuses,” “free luxury accessory package if you buy today,” “free hors d’oeuvres during Happy Hour,”  “free breakfast buffet,” “free wifi,” “free local calls,” “free air travel with earned mileage points,” and this list can go on and on. There is a certain area of the human brain that must be brain dead. It think it’s called the “Free Lunch Lobe.”

I especially loved the Video Professor who tells you to “Try one of my video training programs FREE, just pay the shipping and handling.” Let’s see, a CD-ROM disc can be manufactured for well under $1.00 per unit. The postage at current rates can be less then $1.00 if appropriately packaged. So, if the shipping and handling charge is $10.00, The Video Professor had $8.00 to cover the cost of TV infomercial time (in non-prime time blocks and in bulk), order taking costs, fulfillment costs and profit. So, if 100,000 “free” CDs were shipped out each week and only $1.00 of the $10.00 was gross profit the result is a 5.2 million dollar annual gross profit from a “Free” product. But, if you look into the background of the company, it made a lot more money then that and it’s marketing program was more in depth and misleading.

The bottom line is that I believe the “Free Lunch” and “Something for Nothing” mentality is a form of mental illness. I must admit that, like virtually most people, including the most intelligent folks in our society, I have wandered down this pathway. I guess the real examples are those wealthy, uber intelligent parts of our community who are conned by the sharpest of con artists. And the ultimate coup de grace is when a professional con artist is out conned by another con artist. Everyone seems to be looking for the great “Freebie.”

Are You Free?  

So, the word FREE and its relatives, freedom and liberty, are powerful words. They are also diverse in meaning. This is another unique challenge of the English language i.e. a single word, with many meanings. If you have never looked them up before, I recommend you look at these definitions here in the Merriam-Webster On-line DictionaryFree, Freedom and Liberty.

Living Free isn’t about free stuff or free lunches or something for nothing. Living Free is about “enjoying personal freedom: not subject to the control or domination of another” and “not determined by anything beyond its own nature or beingchoosing or capable of choosing for itself” – taken directly from Merriam-Webster’s definition of free.

The question, “Are you free?” is at face value, very simple. Just three words that are as simple as M.Scott Peck’s three opening words in The Road Less Traveled, “Life is difficult.” They both seem straightforward and most people with a grade school education can read and comprehend the words. However, how many people ever delve deeper than the face value of the words to uncover their true meaning for their own lives?

There are so many of these seemingly simple words we use throughout our human experience that may be easy to articulate in everyday spoken or even written communication, but what is the deep meaning of each of these words in actuality? When we say I love you to a father or a mother or a sister or brother or a cousin, aunt, uncle, grandparent, child, grandchild girlfriend/boyfriend, husband/wife, best friend/pal/buddy, co-worker, military comrade or members of an audience we are entertaining or speaking to, does the word “love” have exactly the same meaning for all of them? Obviously it doesn’t. Do we use it because we mean it? Do we use it because we can’t think of another word that better describes our feelings? Do we use it because it’s simply a commonly used word in each of these relationships? What do we really feel and mean?

Free needs to be defined the same way. Again, I am asking you, “Are you free?” How will you reply to me? Sure, you’re free because you’re of the age of majority and no longer live under your parent’s roof or rules. Sure, you’re free because you get to choose what your want, if anything, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You get to choose where you live. You chose your boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife (if you’re in a culture that doesn’t subscribe to arranged marriages).

But, on what basis are you making all of these choices? Did you choose your current occupation because of everything there is to potentially do in the world, this is your absolute first choice and you wake up each day joyfully looking forward to whatever you do in your occupation? Do you have the opportunity to do all the things you want to do in your free time? Do you have all the free time you desire? Are you living in a place that brings you contentment, peace and happiness? I could go on and on asking these kinds of questions, however, the bottom line is this, are you absolutely living the life that results in a near constant state of joy, happiness, peace and fulfillment? Can you honestly answer ‘yes’ to that question? If you can you are among the very few in the world who can so respond.

Freedom, The Dream & Network Marketing

Most people are so far from what they really, truly want in their heart of hearts. What we want and what we compromise for and accept are usually very different things. The problem is most of us don’t know the difference. Thirty plus years ago I spent about five years in the Amway multi-level marketing business. For those familiar with that business, my wife and I attained the level of Direct Distributor. I will not say that we were successful in that business, but we got a lot further then the millions of people who never came close to attaining that level. Supposedly, we had an independent business. However, I had been in my own independent businesses for about twenty years by that time, mostly part-time since I was a student or in the military.

In this supposedly independent Amway business I was taught that I was to “edify” (the word used regularly) or illuminate my upline (my sponsors and those above them). I could only buy training materials through them and at prices they prescribed based on my level in the business. Buying in bulk or anything that corresponded to traditional business practices had no bearing. Was I free in my “independent business?” Not if I had someone controlling how I ran my business, where I bought my materials and how much I had to pay for them. Negotiation had no standing in this “independent” business. I was usually in disfavor because I still went around them and ran this business as I ran my other businesses. Accordingly, I received little support or direct encouragement from my upline.

There are two parts of multi-level (a more contemporary term – network) marketing business. There is the product or service that is sold or provided to retail customers. This is supposed to actually generate the cash flow that is the engine of any business. The second part is the recruiting aspect. This is where one supposedly makes the “big money” that is dangled as the carrot. Once you become a distributor/dealer/representative/associate of the main business, you then recruit more people just like yourself to create an organization under you to generate larger and larger volumes of cash flow, some of which flows back into your pocket through a bonus pay out structure of some kind.

We would hold “Opportunity Meetings” or set up one on one presentations to present the business opportunity to people we deemed as likely prospects or recruits for our sales organization. Once you were able to set the prospects at ease and build a rapport, you went into the dream presentation. This is where you helped them uncover some of the dreams that generally went unspoken. This was because they typically had jobs working for someone else doing things they didn’t enjoy doing, but they had to do to cover all the bills, expenses and debt they had accumulated to live their supposed (in the U.S.) American Dream lifestyle. But, did we really care about what they REALLY wanted? No, we actually didn’t. What we wanted to do was implant a vision of what they could have like Cadillacs, motor homes, huge houses, and many vacations on the beaches of the world all year long. We showed them how easy it could be.

Reality Check! There are no free lunches and there are no something for nothing deals. If it seems to be too good to be true, it virtually always is. The vast majority of the people, who bought into the Amway program never made any money from it, didn’t last in it very long and often left with negative attitudes. What escaped them was that they had to WORK at it. They still had to do their regular jobs, pay their bills, take care of their homes, kids and other obligations, plus make extra time to sell products (which few of them did), recruit and train people, expend money to attend training seminars and motivational rallies and deal with something new – REJECTION.

They wanted dreams we implanted and weren’t their own and they wanted freedom, but they hadn’t defined what that freedom looked, tasted, felt, smelled and sounded like. Many left the business with new insights and ideas they gained and put to future use. I can’t speak for my former wife, but for myself, I left the business with a huge amount of new insights and education in human nature, sales, organization and other facets of business. But, that’s only because I chose to gain from the experience. A few people earned anywhere from some decent money to fortunes. However, from what I know of those who made the huge money, they worked constantly and were not free, at least not by my definition of personal freedom.

Working Free Helped Define Living Free

Defining personal freedom and being able to honestly and, in your own mind, accurately, answer the question “Are you free?” is of paramount importance. Unless you know in your heart of hearts and in your conscious mind exactly what you want and need to be free under YOUR terms, I venture to say that it’s impossible to achieve it.

I read a book about 25 years ago that I’ve mentioned in this blog before. The title is Working Free: Practical Alternatives to the 9-5 Job by John Applegath. This book is out of print, but is usually available used on Amazon. This book affirmed many of my ideas and philosophies of generating a living in today’s society. The book is now thirty years old (published in 1982), yet virtually everything in the book, conceptually and philosophically, is just as relevant today as it was back then. I finally found the author living in Durham, New Hampshire after a twenty-year search and spent a couple days visiting with him and talking about his ideas. He, personally, had fallen onto some hard times and was dealing with some mental health issues that were under control. I gained a great deal from him. Working free is a component of living free. If your work life controls your lifestyle including where you live, how you live and the freedom to do what you want when you want, you are not living free.

Nature or Nurture

While we are certainly products of our genetic make-up including our physical attributes, mental acuity, talents and such, we are also products of our environment. This is often termed “nature and nurture.” We, of course, have absolutely no control over the genes and DNA that mapped out who we would become as human beings upon conception. And, unfortunately, we had little control over who we would become through our environmental conditioning (nurture) once we were born. Why some are born into the poorest of situations with what would appear to be the least opportunity to lead a highly successful and fulfilling life or why some are born into great wealth and opportunity, yet, ultimately fail miserably in life is a mystery.

Talent in business, science, music, art, athletic prowess, etc. does not seem to be distributed by anything other then random distribution. Interestingly, some with great talent and intelligence who fail miserably in life blame their environment and conditioning – whether from poverty or from privilege. While on the other hand, those who rise up and become great often credit their environment, the very same environment of poverty or privilege.

I can only suggest that Napoleon Hill was onto something when he made his classic statement, “Whatever the mind of man (or woman) can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” I don’t believe anyone can live free without having a dream. I also don’t believe that anyone’s dream is impossible if they believe in it absolutely and commit to it. The dream leads to freedom and true freedom lives in our hearts and our minds. That’s why so many of the prisoners of war during World War II, Korea and Vietnam survived. That’s what those innocent people, who may have wrongly been convicted of crimes that put them in prison, use to keep themselves alive and hopeful that they’ll one day breathe the air outside the prison walls. We see it in political prisoners like Nelson Mendela and so many others.

Born Free

Living free is as natural as breathing air, drinking water and consuming nutrients. There was a non-fiction book and an award-winning movie titled Born Free with a title song by the same name. The first verse of the song goes, "Born free, as free as the wind blows; As free as the grass grows; Born to follow your heart." The book and movie were about an orphaned lion cub raised to a lioness by an English couple in Africa and ultimately, released back into the wild to live free.

Sure, the story was about a wild animal. But, at our most basic level, human beings are animals. We are born, at the instant of birth, as nothing more or nothing less then a free, wild animal. But, due to our superior intelligence and ability to reason, we immediately begin the conditioning process to hone us into civilized people so we can learn to pollute the Earth, exploit its resources, create weapons of mass destruction so we can wield power over each other and entire groups of people and countries. We steal, lie, cheat, plunder, rape, corrupt, murder and create massive numbers of laws, rules, regulations, create dependencies, foster envy and jealousy, spy on one another, snitch, etc. All of this because we are “above the free living animals.” 

To be fair, we have certainly done many very positive things as human beings. But, at our most basic and primal level, we all still, somewhere deep inside our lizard brain, desire to live free. For all, but a minute percentage of 1% of the world’s population, that kind of living free will never be realized. As the old Virginia Slims cigarette commercials boasted at the peak of the Women’s Liberation movement, “We’ve come a long way, Baby.” But, has it all been the right way?

None of us want to give up our computers, iPad’s, smart phones, texting, Skyping, credit cards, high-speed interstates and cars, air travel, luxury resorts, supermarkets with some 40,000 items to choose from, designer jeans, air conditioned, spacious, luxurious (by most world standards) dwellings, etc. Do any of these things actually mean we’re living free(r) or are we ever more controlled and beholding to someone or something else?

What if another giant asteroid should hit the Earth or, God forbid, some nut case punches in the launch codes and pushes the Red Button and launches a nuclear holocaust. It would likely destroy much or all of the world’s infrastructure, manufacturing, health care system, food production, transportation, communications and governments. Would any remaining survivors be able to survive? We would be back as close to living free as the wild animals we originally were.

No! I don’t dwell on such doomsday scenarios. At least, during the remainder of my life expectancy, I don’t anticipate either of these two scenarios. But, have we misplaced our most basic, free-spirited humanity somewhere along this path of tens of thousands of years of human development and evolving civilization? Has it been replaced with so much “stuff” that we feel we can’t survive without having the latest and greatest iPhone 5?

I’m not sure I can even begin to contemplate the answer to that. But, I do know that somewhere between that primal lizard brain kind of living free and worshipping and selling my soul and spirit to the almighty government and god of “stuff” there is a comfort zone I keep striving for that I call living free? And each time I’m asked the question, am I free, I am able to better define it for my own life. So, I end this where it began with the same question . . .

Are you free?  

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