America’s the land of revolutions; let’s start another one!

There are revolutions happening all around us in America, but we don’t always recognize them. But once we do, we realize we can be part of them.

If we dare.

Most of these revolutions arise from breaking with the status quo of our ancestors. And not just talking about change, but actually being part of it. Too often we spout niceties about being original and different, but in reality we’re terrified to not follow the crowd. Too frequently we want to be in on the latest trend, say the right thing in whatever is deemed politically correct for the day, and to be counted among the winners.

And that last reason—to be among the winners—is why people are afraid to be different.

For example, while so many people are personally opposed to both of the major political candidates running for president, they’ll vote for one of them anyway because that’s how it’s always been.

But that doesn’t have to be. We can begin to change the system, this year.

I know that’s scary talk, and I heard someone comment that this isn’t the time for a revolution, but revolutions are happening all the time. Every day people are rejecting what corporations and governments, and what tradition and the status quo, have been dictating should be.

This has always been the way change begins—not with large organizations or ensconced traditions, but with individuals. Margaret Mead famously said,

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Citizens have always taken it upon themselves to instigate change. Back in 1776 Thomas Paine published “Common Sense,” advocating that the colonies separate themselves from Britain. An individual—not a corporation or organization—gave other citizens the idea to break with the current tradition and be brave enough to begin the Revolutionary War.

Not that all acts by individuals will lead to such dramatic events (and there were certainly many more factors contributing to the war). But people have been going contrary to the prevailing winds for a long time. Eleanor Roosevelt once said,

“Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one.”

What this means, as Hugh Nibley has written, is that we need to “Be different. Then you can make a contribution. Otherwise, you just echo something; you’re just a reflection.”

Emil Neufeldt 002

Emil Neufeldt

Many years ago, the Nazi party tried to make my great-grandfather into a reflection. Emil Neufeldt, who lived in the Prussian region of Germany during WWII, was a wealthy inventor and engineer, with great influence in the sugar industry. The Nazis knew someone with his stature and money would be beneficial to their cause, so in the 1930s they sent one of their best to recruit him.

My great-grandfather wanted nothing to do with the Nazis, but knew that openly opposing them could cause him trouble. So he came up with an idea. Known to be able to hold his alcohol, Emil drank the Nazi recruiter under the table. Then he marched to the local Nazi headquarters and demanded they drag their recruiter home. He told them in no uncertain terms they should never dare again try to make him one of their own.

Did Emil Neufeldt stop World War II? No.

Did he stop the Nazis? No.

Did he secure safety for his family and household, and not be bothered by embarrassed and humiliated fascists again? Yes, he did.

He made a difference in his small part of the world, and eighty years later his great-granddaughter proudly remembers his example of not following the dubious safety of authority. (Even though it involved alcohol.)

My mother also told me of a Catholic priest in their area who, in the early years of WWII, preached openly about the atrocities of the Nazis, and publicly questioned where all the Jews were going.

He vanished shortly after, never to be heard from again. Did he change the world then? Stop the Nazis? Discover and reveal what was happening to the disappearing Jews?


He likely met their same fate in some concentration camp. But his bravery is remembered, right here, today. His words and worries and defiance was repeated, many times over by others just as daring, and eventually the war ended and the horrible truth was revealed.

We don’t remember mere reflections. We remember innovators. We remember those who changed the world, for better and for worse.

We remember contrarians. The word coined by Richard and Linda Eyre means”to go against the prevailing wisdom, to contradict what the majority seems to be thinking or doing. [A] ‘contrarian’ . . . describe[s] someone who thinks for himself and who is not swayed by trends or popularity or styles or the direction of the crowd.”

This is happening, all around us. Contrarianism frequently means rejecting foolish traditions of the past.

For example, when I was a teenager in the 1980s rampant consumerism was the tradition. You were openly judged based upon what you wore, what you have, and how big your house was. (Anyone remember Yuppies or “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”?) The era of McMansions was also born, then: gargantuan houses which no one could fill, and later, no one could afford.

But what’s the movement now? Tiny houses. Brilliantly constructed, carefully planned, and usually financially prudent, tiny homes are becoming the answer for many people who can’t afford even to rent.

So who started this trend? A man named Jay Shafer, along with Greg Johnson, Shay Salomon, and Nigel Valdez began the Small House Society back in 2002.  Not a corporation, not an organization, but a “small group of thoughtful, committed citizens” are striving to make housing affordable for everyone.

The government certainly isn’t behind this change. They’re still calling for us to spend, spend, spend in order to improve the economy. Remember a few years back when the feds sent us cash hoping to “stimulate” financial growth? There was no lasting benefits.

In the 1980s and 90s, the tradition to show you have “arrived” was to own a designer handbag. Now, companies like Coach are struggling, along with many department stores and malls, because consumerism was discovered to not be all that it was hyped to be.

The funny thing is, if you’re unhappy, buying stuff won’t fix that. The rising generations, already stuck with debt, logically and contrarily don’t feel like generating more just for a random symbol of status their mothers and grandmothers erroneously thought was so important.

Nowadays, there’s a quiet revolution toward minimalism; people deliberately getting rid of stuff, downsizing their homes, possessions, and priorities. Many websites and books can teach you how to toss all that weighs you down, to organize what you have left, and live a more peaceful, tranquil, simple life.

Again, these are led by individuals who, contrarian-like, have rejected the status quo and have discovered something much more satisfying. And it’s happening all around us.

When I was a child in the 1970s, I first heard about vegetarians, and the idea to avoid eating meat both alarmed and intrigued me. But vegetarians were hippies! Free-loving weirdos and tree huggers! What a non-traditional folk! (And a lot of folks over sixty still regard vegetarians this way, so be warned when you bring it up.) Never mind that there have always been those who have eschewed meat: veganism was only for those on the fringe.

But no longer. While advertisements try to push us toward more meat and protein and dairy products, consumption has declined in the past years. The burger places for which people in the 1960s-1980s developed such affinities are finding themselves struggling against a growing number of restaurants offering healthy alternatives. The web is awash in thousands of vegetarian sites, and what was once on the fringes of contrariness is now mainstream.

Again, no corporation or governmental entity has led the movement for healthier eating. (Sorry, Mrs. Obama.) People have decided, after being inspired by other thoughtful individuals such as T. Colin Campbell and “The China Study”, to eat healthier. Subsequent weight loss and markedly improved health are more powerful inducements than any kind of advertisement.

Need further proof of how we’re rejecting what a generation ago believed was so important? If you’re a millennial, you won’t know that starting in the 1970s we were involved in the cola wars, and those extended until the 1990s. Battles in advertisements between Coke and Pepsi were fought viciously to win our loyalty. This explains why your grandmother may refuse to eat at a certain restaurant because they don’t serve diet Pepsi. She’s still a victim of that bloodless battle to win her devotion. Never mind that soda is as unhealthy and addictive as sugared hummingbird water; cola was king.

1985 ad, when we believed one soda might be “better” for us than another.

Mercifully, people have come to realize that they needn’t define themselves by what foods and beverages they’re loyal to.

In fact, I’ve heard of many in my generation and older are stunned to hear their descendants may drink only water, and never want to eat at McDonald’s. No, this isn’t some kind of treachery; it’s individuals thinking for themselves, looking past the hype and realizing there’s nothing of substance to back it up. 

Along those lines, it may also shock and surprise you that there are families who do not want to ever visit Disneyland. Although the masses and advertising claim it to be the “happiest place on earth,” standing in lines and paying for exorbitant entrance prices, food, and swag doesn’t make everyone happy. You may be startled to know that some contrarians’ children will never walk on that hallowed ground, because they and their parents prefer the solitude, quiet, and low entrance fees of national parks.

Contrarians also show up in education, and have been for many years. Common Core and the associated scripts and texts which pander to it, are driving many families to homeschooling which, three decades ago, was a fringe alternative but is now almost trendy and fast becoming the new tradition.

And if you were around in the 1980s, you  might remember a crass movie called “Revenge of the Nerds.” Now, geek culture is the culture, contrary to what anyone would have believed 30 years ago.

Our attitudes of what is “acceptable” and how things “should” be are changing all the time.

Why can’t our attitudes then also change about how we elect a president?

Most Americans still feel obligated to side with either the Republicans or Democrats, even if they feel neither represents them.  And the arguments they use are old and tired: “Because of the electoral college, only a Republican or Democrat will win.”

Or, a vote for anyone else besides Republican or Democrats means, “Your vote will be wasted.”

Rephrased it’s, “Being different will mean you’ll be left out.”

Doesn’t that hearken back to every fear we had as kids? Not being part of the “in” group?

Too many of us adults still harbor those worries, desperate to be part of “the group” so that we matter. In my limited observations, it’s those middle aged and older who are most worried about being obedient to the brand of Republican or Democrat they were brought up with. They still think (hope?) all Republicans are like Reagan and all Democrats are like the Roosevelts.

Now consider this: how often has the “in” group made poor choices which affected thousands and even millions? Begin by listing obvious dictators, and count which societies are still doing well under them.

Think about all the examples I’ve just shown you about individuals making a difference, influencing others around them to be contrarians. Why can’t we extend this bravery and independent thought to overturn an antiquated and manipulative system for something that really works?

Now is the time for each of us to individually say, “I will no longer support this.” Revolutions don’t have to be bloody, angry things. In fact, nearly all of the examples of positive change I listed above have been thoughtful movements.

“As we watch the directions that society is taking we see the folly, and in our most lucid moments, we don’t want to follow the trends, we want to depart from them — to think more clearly and chart our course on light and truth rather than on the herd instinct that seems to dictate what most people do.” ~Richard and Linda Eyre [emphasis added]

Too often we believe that there are only two options: the established way, and the wrong way. But rhetorically speaking, this is a logical fallacy. If you’ve ever worked for a boss who claims it’s only his way or the highway, you know how miserable that situation can be, and it usually signals a business is in big trouble.

Refusing to see other possibilities is what traps us. There are ALWAYS more options—to any situation, problem, or ideal.

Change never comes from the establishment or a corporation. It always arises from insightful, thoughtful, brave individuals who refuse to believe “there’s no other way.”

My neighbor recently demonstrated this by showing just how few Americans really support the Republican and Democratic parties.

#iamsomeone (And, importantly, Dallin Crump’s just an individual who wants to illustrate a point; he receives no funding or sponsorships. He’s just a “someone,” a “thoughtful citizen,” trying to change America. The fact that millions of people have also viewed and shared this suggests he’s not alone).

It’s up to us to stop being afraid of being different, to embrace contrarianism, to stand up against the tide and slow it down, even if only for a little a bit.

incite change

“I have spent many years of my life in opposition, and I rather like the role.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt

I haven’t voted for either party in twenty years. At times, I’ve even written in candidates who I felt would be excellent leaders. I don’t feel my votes were wasted; I feel my conscience was satisfied.

We ourselves might not experience rewards from our subtle civil disobedience by not voting for either the Republican or Democratic candidate, but our children or grandchildren may.

It’s not necessarily for us that we stand up at this election, or at any other time, to defy the status quo. It’s for those who follow.

Generations from now, may we be remembered as the Thomas Paines, the Emil Neufeldts, and the Catholic Priests who did something more than meekly follow the noisiest crowd. We should be–must be–remembered as those who lent a hand in turning the country around.

“It’s rare,” Gleace told them, “that anyone in the world comes up with new ideas, or pokes at old notions to discover if what everyone believes is actually true. But you,” he smiled slyly at Perrin and Mahrree, “you poked all the time. And that’s how you got here.”

“Our poking caused trouble,” Mahrree pointed out.

“Ah, but the very best kind!” Gleace declared. “The kind that makes people question everything they know. People need to be poked every now and then.”

~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti

What do we think about?

Over the years I’ve become more judicious in what I read, watch, and listen to. Everything I take in effects my thoughts, which in turn alters my behavior. 

Maybe it’s because in the past few years my parents and sister died, and a dear friend is losing her battle to cancer, that I’m acutely aware that life is short.

I don’t have time–nor do I want to have time–to waste. Every day needs to be focused on improving my mind and my heart.

Hugh Nibley, in “Zeal without Knowledge,” summed it up best:

what do we think about

The more I’ve decluttered my mind (as I’ve been doing with my house) the simpler everything is. There really is time and space for the important stuff.

No men who Jaytsy cared about were interested in fashion or the theater. It was all fake and contrived, and unappealing.
But she knew what she did love, and it was glorious to no longer worry about the world’s opinions. She loved real things. Dirt on her hands and under her fingernails. Flicking insects off the corn. Filling wagons with potatoes. Braiding the greens of onions together. Measuring milk yields. Churning butter. Sampling cheeses. Looking into cows’ eyes.
~Book 4, The Falcon in the Barn

We’re wasting ourselves

This morning while rereading Hugh Nibley’s essay “Zeal Without Knowledge,” I came across this quote from Arthur C. Clarke. While I don’t agree with everything Clark believed–he was a provocative philosopher in his own right–I do appreciate this:

arthur c clarke quote

In preface to this, Hugh Nibley wrote:

sin is waste


Means I need to get off of Facebook again.

(And yes, I am working on Book 5, the title to be released soon.)

The myth of hard work and wealth

I think there’s been more harm than good done by this statement: “If you work hard enough, you’ll be wealthy.”

I recently met a man named Charles who’s a chef, been working in restaurants since he was 16-years-old, and owned his own restaurant and his own catering business. But he can’t keep up anymore—working from 4am to 11am at the restaurant, catering on the side, and getting to bed by 10pm if he’s lucky only to get up again at 3:30am. He’s stooped over, walks slowly, but still smiles, albeit wearily. He’s 68 years old and doesn’t want to retire, but needs to slow down. However, he worries about the many people who rely on him and his industry. His past generosity means he doesn’t have much saved up, either.

Sara, in her 40s, has a husband is trying to finish his college degree. To help him, she’s now working full-time as a teacher’s aid in a school, and works an additional 20 hours/week at a hotel. In the few hours in between she helps her five kids with their homework so that her husband can study. She has a college degree, but couldn’t find full-time work anywhere in her field, so she’s burning the candle on both ends. Both Charles and Sara work very hard.

How often have you heard this statement? “Get a college degree, and your earning potential will increase.”

I know of far too many people to name with college degrees, with years of experience in management, training, HR, and sales who are currently working part-time jobs–which require no degree–and offer no benefits (we won’t get into the irony of the Affordable Health Care Act right now). There simply aren’t enough full-time jobs, and while a few of these people have considered moving to find work, they’re trapped by houses with no equity in them. Every month they sink deeper into the hole. 

Then there’s my friend with degrees in a hard science and a foreign language, but works as a seamstress. She said “Professional Alterations” was the most useful course she completed in college. And then there’s the friend who finished a graduate degree widely touted as the key to success, but neither he nor the twenty others he graduated with can find work making more than $14/hour. The market’s been saturated with people graduating with that same advanced degree.

I think this one gets under my skin the most: “Work smarter, not harder.”

I read this on an acquaintance’s website. Back in college he drove twenty-year-old German luxury cars, because he vowed he’d always drive new ones in the future. He does, a new model every year, as the head of a company that peddles a “forever young tonic” to vain and aging people. A blogger on his company’s site claimed, “Some people think luck just happens. We make it happen.” Then she went on about how much money one could make selling their snake oil. But I never believed one should become rich by manipulating the vulnerable or stupid. This rouse has been around for generations. It’s not working smarter, it’s working meaner.

How about this one: “Work hard enough, and you’ll get your piece of the pie.”

Or so claims another get-rich website, which buries the actual product they sell but talks all about the vacations their marketers take. The problem with this mantra is that there is only so much pie to go around. But those sitting at the top of a pie kingdom believe in the myth of “spontaneous pie generation,” that they won’t need to share some of the pie they snagged, but if others simple worked as well as they did, another pie would magically appear for them too–and they’re willing to sell you the secret.

As the discussion of the “haves” vs. the “have-nots” comes around again, there’s a prevailing notion of, “I deserve this, and you don’t, because you’re just not good/smart/hard-working enough.”

And this notion is a lie. I’ve always suspected that, but now I’ve seen proof.

Lately my eyes have been opened to how many people in America are hard-working and are just getting by. I thought it was just us, but I suspect it’s the majority. Forget wealth; we’re just trying to cover the mortgage. Like the nearly 70-year-old woman I know who lives with her struggling sister and her family. She works 30+ hours a week in manual labor to help cover half of the very modest mortgage. Hard working? I was by her side for four hours recently, and this so-called “elderly” woman worked circles around me! I was exhausted at the end of the shift and was going home to take a nap. She was going home to bottle several bushels of peaches.

I cringe when I hear disparaging comments about the working poor. And even though what qualifies as “poor” in America is still richer than the vast majority of the rest of the world, there are still millions of good, working adults just getting by month-to-month. Try being a janitor for a week. That’s hard work.

Yes, a great man . . . but he didn’t accomplish it all on his own. No one really does.

If hard work was all it took to become wealthy, there’d be a lot more living in luxury. Take a deep, searching look at the level of hard work many people in third-world countries accomplish, day after day. No one would argue they’re wealthy. So what gives?

The fact is, a great many that have wealth didn’t get there on hard work alone. Quite often we point to Benjamin Franklin as the epitome of working one’s way to the top. But Pulitzer Prize winning biographer Gordon Wood pointed out that Mr. Franklin was the beneficiary of numerous “patronages”: wealthy Pennsylvanians who donated him funds, set him up with those of influence, even paid many of his expenses to get him started with his printing business. “In the end Franklin was never quite as self-made as he sometimes implied or as the nineteenth century made him out to be” (The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin, page 27).

Many of the “greats” have to admit they stood on the shoulders of others, got started with the seed money of friends and relatives, received an inside tip, was in the right place at the right time, even got a bit lucky. Some have attained their positions by manipulation through a product—such as my acquaintance with the anti-aging cream—or have exploited a resource that wasn’t really theirs to begin with.

I love what Brigham Young said, over 150 years ago:

“People think they are going to get rich by hard work—by working sixteen hours out of the twenty-four; but it is not so. . . .
There is any amount of property, and gold and silver in the earth and on the earth, and the Lord gives to this one and that one—the wicked as well as the righteous—to see what they will do with it, but it all belongs to him.” (emphasis added)

Think about that—God’s given more to some than to others, to see what they will do. I sincerely doubt He’s expecting those with more to indulge themselves, but instead to “. . . have mercy on the poor,” as Proverbs 14:21 suggests, for “happy is he” who does.

Now, consider this notion of hard work, from Professor Hugh Nibley, one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th Century:

“What are the qualities that make for success in the business world? Hard work, dependability, sobriety, firmness, imagination, patience, courage, loyalty, discrimination, intelligence, persistence, ingenuity, dedication, consecration—you can add to the list. But these are the same qualities necessary to make a successful athlete, artist, soldier, bank robber, musician, international jewel thief, scholar, hit man, spy, teacher, dancer, author, politician, minister, smuggler, con man, general, explorer, chef, physician, engineer, builder, astronaut, scientist, godfather, inventor.

. . . You don’t have to go into business to develop character . . . There are over one half million millionaires in the country [in 1979 when he delivered this speech]—but how many first-rate composers or writers or artists or even scientists? A tiny handful.” (emphasis added; “Gifts,” Approaching Zion, pages 102-3).

I fear that many in our society don’t hold in any esteem those who truly work hard. Instead, we’re envious of those who seem to get away with working less, yet still get more. That’s what the 1% vs. 99% protests of last year were about: people wanted the magic spell to spontaneously generate their own pie, and if given that magical pie, the cynic in me suspects it wouldn’t be shared either. That’s why we uphold the corrupt system of some getting more only because we hope to rise to that level of luxury and leisure ourselves.

But that’s not how it’s meant to be.

Giyak exhaled. “Colonel, I appreciate your sense of fairness. Very few men have that anymore. That’s what makes you an excellent commander, I’m sure. But politics is different. More delicate. Those that live in the Estates are, are . . . more achieved. More deserving of their station in life. They worked harder, are smarter . . . I don’t know. Perhaps the good doctor could explain to us the differences in achievement in one’s life . . . but you see, those who nature have favored . . . nature has favored. That’s all there is to it. We, as a political entity, must also recognize that nature has chosen some for success rather than others.”

But Perrin wasn’t convinced. “I just worry about a society that deems one person more worthy than another. I believe in the Creator, and I believe He created us all equal. To see us deferring to some and neglecting—I’m sorry, not ‘neglecting,’ but marginalizing others in order to favor another? They’ve already been ‘rewarded’ with more by their status. Is it truly fair or right that a builder of a school makes three times as much as an eggman? Don’t children need food as much as they need education? Or why should I as a colonel make more than my major? We work the same hours, at the same fort, doing each other’s job most of the time . . . If extra silver’s to be given, it should be given to him with the greater need—”   ~Book 3, The Mansions of Idumea

This isn’t the last you’ll hear from on this issue of money, sharing, and worth. Oh dear, not at all. I’m just getting started . . .

Quit complaining–it’s free!

Once again I’ve been astonished and overwhelmed by the generosity of complete strangers. The world is a marvelous, sharing community, via the Internet.

No, I don’t mean that sarcastically, even though my close friends know what a grumpy cynic I am. I mean it sincerely.

Yes, there are individuals who are greedy—hoaxsters, thievers of data and identities, takers of what they don’t create, manipulators of the trusting, purveyors of dubious knowledge, and creators of questionable websites—

But there’s enough written about them so I don’t need to add to the complaints. And we don’t need to spend any time describing how governments are selfish and greedy.

Because I’ve discovered that individuals are not.  

I want to praise the rest of the community: those who upload useful (and silly) videos to Youtube; those who explain difficult ideas in almost plain English on Wikipedia (and allow me to adjust the grammar of those explanations); those who write blogs that uplift, inform, that share successes and failures that the rest of us can use (occasionally in our own blogs).

It’s truly remarkable, this fantastic sharing of ideas, applications, programs—all for free. Never in the history of the world has so much richness been offered for nothing.

Don’t believe me? Tally in your head how many times you’ve benefitted from someone’s generosity. Honestly evaluate just how much you’ve taken from others via the Internet, and how much others have offered up freely. 

Here’s my list from just the past few weeks: 

    • Downloaded two programs for recording and manipulating audio;
    • watched hours of Youtube videos teaching how to record audiobooks;
    • copied links from a dozen websites for understanding grammar (for my online composition course);
    • gathered countless clever memes and quotes from additional websites to share with high school students to make the course more entertaining;
    • pinned recipes for gluten free cooking;
    • researched strategies for teaching autistic kids history;
    • sought advice on specifics of writing novels;
    • looked up dozens of details about things I don’t really know: from breeds of horses, to how sedation works, to how the ancients made black powder (writers have worrisome search histories);
    • read five newspapers and online magazines a day.

I also joined two online communities where I post naïve newbie questions and am given remarkably kind and helpful responses back.

In the past I’ve asked cooks, parents, writers, carpenters, decorators, and techie types for advice, and these people—who I’ve never met and never will—graciously take a few minutes to offer their ideas and solutions. It’s absolutely remarkable how we can enter nearly any online community or respond to a blog post and are treated like colleagues worthy of attention.

Twenty years ago none of this existed. We have a hard time remembering that.

I love that I found this on Google.
For free.

When I worked on my master’s thesis, I took up second residence in the library trying to track down obscure documents that some other grad student was hoarding.

Just today my daughter, herself in a graduate program, called to say she was doing background reading on Wikipedia to learn about an obscure concept, and found in the footnotes a link to a publication she’d been looking for for weeks.

It’s almost like cheating.

My teenage son, whose computer has developed some issues, chatted with more experienced programmers in various parts of the world, and is now fixing his computer. And none of these experts are charging for their expertise.

It’s almost like stealing.

But it isn’t. It’s offered in the pure spirit of cooperation.

Now, I’m not stupid. I know full well there are many out there not nearly so altruistic, but instead parasitic. But this post isn’t about them. 

It’s about the 99% who don’t fit that profile. I also refuse to listen to the cynics who may roll their eyes and offer me a lecture about how we’ve become a “detached society” more interested in our online relationships than we are our face-to-face ones.

I admit there’s a bit of a distraction there, but likely because we now have entered into a fascinating global community and have discovered that we are not alone in our worries and problems, and that there’s enormous satisfaction in helping someone else along with the solutions we’ve discovered.

With a little discipline we can bring back our awe-struck attention to those physically in front of us, but I think we can also be forgiven for being just a little amazed by it all.

It’s that ease of connection that’s so staggering. I’m tickled when someone messages me on Facebook or via my website asking for suggestions on something I know a little bit about. Quite often I’ve never met these people, or knew them once only a long time ago, but here we are–communicating. I feel an extraordinary sense of satisfaction by being able to help someone else, even if I barely know them.

Such a fluidic society of ideas and sharing has never before existed, although Plato and Sir Thomas Moore wrote about or imagined smaller, idyllic utopian societies where everything was shared communally. The scholar Hugh Nibley researched and wrote extensively about the ancient City of Enoch, and has described how beautifully such a society could function, eliminating the vast majority of problems we experience now.

I’ve also researched attempts of communal sharing and living in more modern times (Brigham Young tried to get 19th century Mormons to establish Zion, and in some ways it was quite successful, until the good old vices of jealousy and pride undermined it). Yet I believe we’re heading in the direction that Gene Roddenberry tried to demonstrate in Star Trek—a community that’s more concerned with sharing knowledge than it is in acquiring money for that knowledge.

Some time ago I read how programming junkies realized they produced better work when they weren’t given a paycheck for their efforts, but instead were going to make that work available for free on the Internet. Working under their own names, instead of a corporation, and knowing the project rested solely on them propelled them to generate far better applications.

I find it interesting that the current trend of so many books and movies is to show a dystopian society, while this utopia of sorts has developed on the web. More interestingly, this sharing movement has been individual-run, not government-inspired.

I’m being more optimistic than this today.
(And again I love that I found this on the Internet.
For free.)

Each person decides on his or her own to start a blog, become a mentor, contribute to a project, or make a video. In fact, it seems that all great social movements begin on a personal level, never a bureaucratic one.

Perhaps it’s fitting, though: this utopian nature on the web just may create a dystopia for government as we know it. (Hey, I can hope.)

The true beauty of this free-for-all attitude is that it’s infectious: I don’t see the trend reducing but growing. I don’t know if there’s any data on this, but I believe that creativity is exploding. More people develop, write, photograph, cook, renovate, recycle, and innovate than ever before. On the Internet we find a forum and a community that we can influence.

On second thought, it’s not infectious—it’s magic!

So much so freely shared encourages others to share as well. Because I’ve benefitted so much from others, I also offer what I have for free as well. While my books are for sale on Amazon, I will always have free downloads on my website, and hope to add free audiobooks via Podiobooks in the next few months as well.

This utopian-style of sharing is a marvelous notion, but certainly not without its drawbacks. Problems with these freebies exist. Directions aren’t always correct, products aren’t always the best, mistakes are made (see the various pinterest-fail sites for evidence) . . . But I think overwhelmingly people are sincerely just trying to help each other.

And they do, in far greater ways than any corporation, government, or agency could ever hope to accomplish.

So I’m disappointed when I hear people complain about changes on Pinterest, Facebook, and other social media sites, or when people whine (yes, whine!) that a program is occasionally glitchy or a download wasn’t quite what they expected. To hear them go on and on, you’d think they’d been bilked for thousands of dollars and then handed a flaming bag of excrement.

I want to shake them by the shoulders and ask, “And how much did you pay for that service? That product?”


That’s absolutely incredible.

“An author is speaking clearly and silently in your head, directly to you.”

Until I read this beautiful quote from Carl Sagan (thank you, Grammarly), I didn’t know how to articulate the sensation I’ve felt that I’ve snuck into a writer’s mind, and was welcomed there. But as I thought about it, I realized I’ve “experienced” a variety of authors in such a manner. Tell me if you’ve had similar impressions with these or other authors:

Plato: I approached his writing hesitantly, researching background about ancient civilizations, when about two paragraphs into the chapter I felt as if Plato himself had come into the room to have a chat. In my mind he was a small, narrow-bodied man wearing a white tunic and sitting on plain stool. He smiled as if glad to see someone else was coming “in” for a visit, and he wanted to help. He pointed out sections, waved for me to skip other parts, and cheerfully gestured to a chapter he knew I’d particularly enjoy. Then he sat back and smiled as I read, waiting to answer questions he’s known the answers to for thousands of years.

 J.K. Rowling: Reading her feels like a group activity, a sense of sitting on the floor on comfy cushions (a la the Room of Requirement) with about a dozen others of all ages and sizes—and no one cares that we seem too old to do this—while our friend Jo sits on a soft chair, but at the very edge of it, reading to us her stories and getting all of the voices just right.

James Joyce: I’ve wandered a few times into Mrs. Dalloway to find Mr. Joyce sitting in the corner rattling on and on, only distantly recognizing I was there as he gestured to the wall and talked to the ceiling, until I quietly slinked out again and closed the door. I don’t think he ever noticed.

Hugh Nibley: This scholar and philosopher stands at a podium in a lecture hall, while I sit near the back frantically taking notes as he reads his words at break-neck speed. But I have a remote control, and every minute I zap him to pause his lecture, rewind, listen, then flip to the extensive footnotes while Professor Nibley waits, just on this side of patient. I bite my lip as I read the footnote, realize it introduces yet more names and archaic traditions I’ve never heard before, so I shrug, occasionally write down a reference to Google later, then hit “play” again, pretending all the while that even though I just sit on the surface of his topic, I understand the depths to which he’s diving. We both know I can barely tread water.

Flannery O’Connor: She tells me her stories as we wash dishes in the back kitchen of a large southern plantation home, and we snigger when the ladies with fancy hats walk past the window.

Shannon Hale: She tells me her stories as we drove up through the canyons in a big SUV to take the teenage girls from our church on a camping trip, because I met her at a book signing where she told me she also loves Terry Pratchett, and I knew right then we could be great friends.

J.R.R. Tolkien: He sits behind a grand desk, leaning back leisurely and gestures to maps on his walls and charts on the desk, while talking in an oddly lilting monotone about details and histories and peoples I’m not quite following until I fall asleep. Guiltily I shake myself awake a moment later, only to realize he never noticed I nodded off—he’s enjoying himself far too much. My daughters, however, glare at me in disgust.

Stephen King: Because he starts his stories by turning out all the lights, then shining a flashlight in his face, I slam shut the book just as he opens his mouth to speak, and I move on.

Lao Tzu: He’s a sweet, gentle man, forcing me to sit in an expanse of sand while he teaches me his verses of philosophy. Much like Oogway in “Kung Fu Panda,” he speaks slowly and repeats himself until he sees a light of understanding come in my eyes. Then he hands me a peach, and recites me another couplet about war, and fighting, and peace, and knowing.

Jane Austen: We sit primly in her parlor, with arms folded just so and skirts adjusted in just this way, and glance furtively at the door for someone wonderful or dreadful to come through it, while she tells me all the news of the town as quickly as she can before either of our mothers can interrupt us.

Jessica Day George: We sit in the back of some dull meeting gossiping quietly and giggling, hoping no one hears us, but knowing the speaker is glaring right at us.

Orson Scott Card: I actually sat in two meetings with him! At a small private college in Virginia! But I never spoke to him! And he never noticed me! And when I finally read Ender’s Game, I felt as if I was huddled in the corner of that classroom with his book, and he was watching me out of the corner of his eye as if to say, “It’s about time.”


TO PROTECT THESE  NEXT TWO AUTHORS FROM SCORN                               

(because I’m sure they’re both just as lovely as can be, but create utter drivel)

Authors who will remain anonymous, but have a fondness for writing about males that turn into animals and woo silly teenage females: I gritted my teeth and cringed through these authors first books, as if I was stuck on a long bus ride behind two chatting women telling each other far too many details about their fantasy love lives. I closed my eyes periodically hoping to avoid gooey passages, only to run into other sections that not only made my eyes roll but caused me involuntary gagging. I got off the bus at the earliest possible moment.

Terry Pratchett: My all-time favorite author who I visit frequently. He lets me right into his mind, which is most intimidating and most marvelous. Every time I want to turn left, he shifts me to go right; I look down, he points me up, and I sigh and wish I could think of such turns. He takes characters, sets them in front of me, then describes them in such terms that I despair, because I’ll never come close to writing like that. But he just chuckles, grabs my arm, and drags me to yet another amazing place until suddenly I stop and say, “I just had an idea . . .” To which he smiles and waves good-bye until I come back again, because it’s not about being better than him, or even as good as him, but about discovering what I want to say.