This section is divided into three parts including a section on the channeling of ambition, a section on the path of ambition that I have followed, and finally a section on the threshold of an abyss to which my ambition has led me, but I alone cannot cross.
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Table of Contents
finding one's star
People view their life in different ways: some as a journey in search of some unknown destiny that is their elusive self, others as a ride through time, and still others as a difficult struggle for survival whose only purpose is to serve their God faithfully until they have made it into Heaven. Many even view themselves as participants in a play in which they act out their part until reality steps him and kicks them off the stage, or they receive their first round of applause and keep going back for more. Then, there are those who see themselves destined to do great things and through dedication, luck, and perseverance do just that. After many years, I have come to think of my life as a story that I create as I go along, but must tell myself over and over until the story and the reality in which it unfolds are closely matched.
Now, some stories have happy endings, and other stories end in tragedy. I like both, so long as the protagonist-hero is one of courage and perseverance who risks his reputation to achieve some objective greater than himself. In such stories it makes little difference whether the hero perishes or persists.
When my students ask me for direction in life, I tell them to shoot for a star that they can likely never reach and then do their best to come as close to it as possible. Further, I tell them to be careful in their ascent, but always climb, even if, indeed, they are on their way down. For, who is to say that the bottom of the next valley is not their best path up the next mountain?
When further asked what star they should choose I ask them first what it is that they like to do and want to achieve. And, when they reply what they want to be, I make sure that they understand that being anything but who they are on the way up their mountain is unworthy of their struggle. For social rank and position are but useful indicators of how other people think of us, but not how we think and feel about ourself. Happiness comes with peace of mind, and in the end it is something very personal. And, always the discussion turns to money, as it very well should, for without money it is difficult to do or achieve much of anything; even though I believe that I have done quite well with very little. For, I take pride in what I know, and in my ability to share this knowledge with others. In the end, I tell my students that money and position are always a means to an end, and that there are many paths up and down the same mountain. Indeed, the star -- a distant goal that is always there even in our darkest hour -- provides direction. And, if the goal is larger than oneself, then others can share in it. As a result, one is never truly lost, nor ever truly alone. Finally, I tell them never to change their star unless they are certain that they have found another that is better, else any star ceases to serve as a guide when the going gets rough.
But, what should be my star, they ask. And, I respond that they must discover it on their own, for only they can know their own heart. Further, I tell them that they must be watchful and alert, and that one day their star will appear, and that this will be the day that they suddenly rise up. Some look at me in bewilderment, for they truly do not know where to begin to look. For after all, the night sky is filled with many stars -- too many to count. So, I ask them, what makes them unique, and if there is not something in the world that they would like to make better. For, by matching these two notions they become special to others and themself, and their way will be made easier. In the end, each of us must pay his own way, and for this, one must have something of value to sell to others. For, of what real worth is it only to be able to say that I am the same as you, a lost sheep looking for a shepherd?
The world is full of wonder, and why not explore it in its farthest reaches, for it is there where even distant stars become reachable.
Unlike other animals that pretty much live their life from day to day completely unaware that it will sooner or later come to an end, we, humans, are confronted with our own end long before we discover it. Usually, it is when the first close member of our family dies, and we are called upon to attend the funeral. Sometimes I think that knowing our death long before it occurs is a mean trick designed by a malevolent being to confuse and humble us; other times I think of children and understand well that our own end is their beginning, and that the torch of humanity and life, as we know it, is transformed and carried forward by each new generation. Alas, we are creatures of habit who are all too willing to go along with the herd, even when we sense that the herd is going in the wrong direction. What children do is compel us, by their inquisitive and fearless nature, to question our habits and the direction of the herd in ways that we would never do without them. For, it is this natural curiosity and courage of children that remind us that we are not as smart or even as courageous as we sometimes believe ourselves to be. What is more, each child grows up to assert himself, and thusly, change is born.
On several occasions I have thought to have found my star, only to lose sight of it, and see it reappear much later. Then too, many a star that I once thought was a good match for me, was no match at all, for I had discovered something new about myself or the world around me.
the final star?
For several decades I have asked myself what I would like to see written on my headstone. Although what is actually written is no longer my concern, the answer to the question, if only an exercise, is worthy of consideration. For, it challenges us to find meaningful purpose in our life. Then too, do not the living write about the dead what makes the living feel good about the passage of the deceased?
I have spent 23 of the past 25 years overseas. It was in the late summer of 1991 that I boarded a plane for Tōkyō with American service men, women, and their families to teach mainstream economics to US military personnel as an employee of the Overseas Division of the University of Maryland. A full generation had past since I had shouted out the number of a fallen US soldier in front of the White House. The Vietnam War was waging, and the flood lights with which we were blinded at the time made small the flames of the candles that we held. It was my first real challenge to the Washington establishment, and this challenge, along with family tragedy, jettisoned me from my chosen career path. It took me many years to fight my way back into the center of the current. Still, I had fallen short of my goal to obtain a Ph.D. and was no longer the hero unto myself that I once thought myself to be. Then too, I was now older, and I had a story that I could tell. I had obtained my Ph.D. in life. Looking back I no longer regret having failed to achieve either the Ph.D. or the mystical experience that I had once sought while still at the university.
Still, I was no longer temporally in sync with those around me and teaching became a way to overcome this asynchronic discrepancy. Since then, few of my friends have been my age-mates, and nearly all of my students have been something more than just a means to earn a living. After some time in the teaching profession, however, I had begun to reject what I was expected to teach, realized in my heart that each of us is his own best teacher, and began looking for a new career path, a new star that would make good on what I already knew and still quell my childhood and youthful ambition. And, so it was that I set my sights on the long haul. With one foot in mainstream economics teaching and research and the other in the English language industry, I combined my formal training in anthropology, German and French language and literature, applied languages, and desire to explore. My goal was to test in everyday life what I had learned in the classroom in countless discussions and in many hours steeped in scientific literature, history, philosophy, and classical fiction.
After nearly a decade in Japan I began to realize that I was going nowhere — this, despite my acquired fluency in oral and written Japanese and, what I believe to be a profound understanding of Japanese culture and society. When I arrived in Hong Kong in 2000 at the turn of the century, I was treated, as if I had just gotten off a plane from New York, and I rebelled against the mistreatment. My goal, however, was not to be a rebel; rather, it was to find my new star and strive for it. It was in this manner that EARTH and the Hong Kong Language Needs Assessment (HKLNA) Project were born. The Tsong Kit Project was just a natural carry-over of what had already become a life-long principle: always learn the language and culture of my host nation. Unintended were my very valuable lessons in common, criminal, and contractual law and the British legal system. My shift in emphasis from economic modeling to more hands-on political economy had begun. After a two-year court battle that went all the way up to Hong Kong's Superior Court in an effort to clear my name from phony and scandalous accusations that threatened my reputation in Hong Kong's education industry I was compelled, for lack of funds, to withdraw my case from the District Court and to flee Hong Kong as an economic refugee. I was lucky that my recently deceased mother’s inheritance had finally been settled by my little brother, and I was able to pay my debts and have enough left over to survive until I could find my way back overseas as an English language teacher in Jubail, Saudi Arabia. It was during the 2007 housing crisis, and my little brother had been holding out in vain.
The path from there to here has been long, cumbersome, enlightening, and rewarding. Important here is that America had changed to such a degree that I hardly recognized it, and I became, thereafter, more watchful of its goings-on from abroad. Obviously the tragedy of September 1, 2001 had taken its toll on American society, but there were other changes as well that disquieted me — American obesity and the extraordinary effort to be different when, in effect, everyone seemed to be just following the herd. The philosophically deep-rooted notion of political freedom that my immigrant father had taught me had been replaced with the frivolous consumptive freedom of looking and acting different because one could. No, America was not the same, and she did not seem to want to be told that she had changed. I felt like a stranger in my own motherland. Then too, I had also changed, and therein lay a part of my feelings of alienation. Still, I was no longer judging my homeland from the narrow perspective of one foreign nation, but already from that of seven on two completely different continents!
As I saved my money in Saudi Arabia, I listened, watched, and participated in the global social media. It was not long before I came to the conclusion that America was deeply troubled. Despite its exceptional hyperbole, America's only real claim to world leadership was its global military and financial might and the English language. Many nations had surpassed the United States in per capita income and were equal or superior in many other ways as well. Our Constitution, that had been imitated for more than a century around the world, was now little more than a fading document enshrined behind glass in our nation's capitol — the symbol of a global empire and debtor nation nearly void of the spirit that once made it great.
For the first time in 20 years I began to live more like the rest of my overseas American colleagues, and the hidden undercurrents that were once easy for me to hear were replaced with the surface currents of a privileged imperial guest. But still, I listened, still I watched. For, what I was hearing about my host nation from those in my motherland was simply alien to what I was actually experiencing on a daily basis. Indeed, I reversed the flow of criticism and began digging into my own nation's past in a way that I had never done before.
When I was told by the Saudi Ministry of Education that I was too old and would have to leave, I had a choice: one, return to Thailand where I could stretch my several tens of thousands of dollars in savings over several years; or two, return to the United States and try still again to obtain a foothold in what I could still claim as my own. This said, I was not going to perform the latter in the way that America had become, but in the way that America was truly meant to be. I had recognized a star more important than any that I had ever seen before, as well as the opportunity to impact not only my homeland, but also the world empire that it truly is, and where I have dwelled so long.
How quickly were my savings squandered in a vain attempt to achieve what has since proven to be the highly improbable, but hopefully still not impossible. In a way, I feel like I have been raped by many of my own countrymen and -women, as well as my own foolish belief that 2015 would have been very much different from 2007 and 2009. Still, I made a solid effort. No, I am not bitter. Rather, I am much better informed about what is truly going on in America today and can easily see how many of my fellow Americans have led themselves astray.
This is not the way that it was suppose to be, and it is not the way that it should ever remain. Indeed, it was for this very reason that I even returned.
at the threshold of crisis
When you pay taxes, the government takes from you whether you agree or not. In any case, you consent, because you are well able to manage without what the government takes and can fight against its unsound policies with what remains while living out your life in comfort among your family, friends, and colleagues. My situation is different. Firstly, I have no family, my colleagues are scattered around the globe, and my friends, despite their already provided generous help, are not in a position to see me through my current dilemma. Secondly, the government is not taking from me, but I have the freedom to stop the government from taking just a little more from others....
Furthermore, were I to consent and allow the government to steal on my behalf, I would betray my own conscience. When I was in my late 20s, I suffered a bout of unemployment and was invited into my father’s house. One day he told me to report to the local welfare office. I simply could not believe what I was hearing from my own father, and within one or two weeks I had found a job mopping floors at a local country club. My father knew how to motivate me, and today I dearly thank him for it. This time around things are different, as I am considered too old and overqualified on the one hand or too old and underqualified on the other. With regard to the former, my latest employment application for the job of front desk clerk and housekeeper at a local gym where I have been working out for the past 16 months was rejected. Everyone at the desk, not only knows me by name, but they have memorized my membership number and teach it to new staff as they are hired. All I have to do is wait my turn, say “Hi”, someone replies, “I’ve got you, Roddy”, and I am on my way to the dungeon with a polite “Thank you”. No, ID card necessary. No, finger print required! I refused this latter when I learned that I had the option. On July 25th I was told by the new manager that I did not have sufficient experience — the same person who refused even to provide me with the courtesy of an interview — a fair chance, if you will.
In short, I have been driven out of the labor market by age prejudice and a credentials industry that grew up around my profession while I was working overseas. I have spent the past year banging my head against a glass wall in search of something that I now know from experience will not be forthcoming. You can read more about it here, here, and here, if you like. The last in this series explains why I do not have the needed credential.
Although I have found a likely way to make it on my own, I discovered it much later than my remaining savings would permit. I have now been declined help by four lending agencies established precisely to help small businesses, three lending institutions where I had hoped to obtain a personal loan, and one angel fund whose reasoning was nearly identical to the four lending agencies. Insufficient proven positive cash flow has been the overriding argument. Well, yeah, the market has told me that I am no longer employable and my social security payments cover only half of my monthly food bill. Other reasons for my rejection have been: one, I cannot consider my dwelling as office space and thus a business expense, even though my office comprises a full fifty percent of my tiny studio apartment; two, my exhausted savings are not considered as an investment already made, for they do not represent the purchase of material assets; and three, my vast wealth of human capital that could, with some effort, be objectively measured is not measurable and therefore ignored. I sometimes wonder if people in the financial industry even understand the concept of opportunity cost or what it means to launch and sustain an online business. Further, without collateral I am dead in the water with regard to a personal loan — this, despite my above average credit rating with two credit-rating agencies. My apartment furniture and computer equipment simply do not count. Alas, I have missed only one payment on my sole credit card in the past eight years. My somewhat overdrawn VISA account keeps me just below a good rating with Experian. Then too, my new MasterCard on its way from CapitalOne will not cover the prior month’s rent, and I have already received my first eviction notice — this, despite the very supportive effort on the part of my building manager to delay the process as long as possible. Finally, it appears certain that I will not be able to cover payment on my VISA card this month and still be able to pay my online fees that sustain the life-line of an online business. Although I have been able to negotiate my first contract on Verbling — a positive cash-flow to build my online business —, it will likely take many weeks before I can establish a student-base large enough to cover my living expenses. Verbling is an online forum that brings desirous students and talented teachers together through Google+ video-chat so that these former can practice and enhance their second-language skills.
My choice is clear. Succumb to the system and live off the corrupt divisive government trough of “tax and redistribute”, or make good on my own impossible situation in the form of an online protest and rise above it. My fellow Americans, understand, if you are able, that the general welfare of a nation cannot be promoted by taking from the one and giving to the other, and that giving to others must be voluntary or not at all. Each of us must carry his own weight, if we are to remain a strong nation. And, when not, then through the act of charitable giving and not through the abuse of authority in whom we have entrusted our national, state, local, and individual security. For, in the end, who is the government to decide who is in need and who is not, who should pay and who should not, who is happy and who is not? No, it is the job of government to punish those who deny us of our fundamental right to our own person, property, and pursuit of happiness. It is the government’s role in American society, neither to award special favors to incompetent firms or industries and thus destroy competition, nor to create an entire class of dependent adults who are otherwise fully competent of fending for themselves. As conceived by our founding fathers and their French and English contemporaries, the job of government is to protect our person and property, not to create the conditions for class warfare between a small group of people who assign themselves special privileges and a much larger group that demands their unlawful share in the form of designated entitlements.
What made us a great nation is our understanding that each of us pursues his own happiness, alone or in the company of others, but never by the force of others unless we, of course, use our own force against them!
And, so it is that I have chosen to perish or flourish: perish as a martyr against the corrupt system that has become the contemporary unAmerican way; or flourish through the generous help of those willing and able to help see me through this most difficult of times.
making the proper choice
Now it is your decision. I have made mine. Please select from among the available alternatives.
That Charity Be Given Freely, or Not at All!
Hunger Strike Page
the Courage to Act,
Roddy A. Stegemann
August 4, Seattle, Washington
I take full responsibility for all content.