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Everyone has the seeds for greatness

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Straight through my law school graduation, mass communication was heavily controlled by corporate-owned media, deciding whom to name and pay as great people, actors, newsmakers and politicians. Then the Internet took the world by storm in the mid-1990’s, followed shortly after by my static webpage in 1999, blogs, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other social media for those not wanting to build their own websites. Corporate media’s grip on information and making names for people concomitantly got diluted.

Too many people too often let others define their worth and merit, starting with grades and awards in school, followed by being picked or not first for pickup sports games, followed by being hired and promoted or not at work, followed by what the media say and do, and constantly considering who wants to be their friends and romantic partners. This is all dualistic, of course, with duality being all the more enticing with matters that affect one’s ability to pay bills and save money, and the health and happiness of oneself and loved ones.

Too many people let their dreams get stunted by their teachers and the socialization of the education system that tell them they are not good enough to reach much success, not ready to succeed, and not ready to go further before learning certain “basics”. Thank goodness for such a role model as Steve Jobs, who proved that one can succeed well in the highest echelons of the corporate and technological world without a college degree, without traversing a traditional path, and without wearing starched white shirts and business suits to work. Of course, Jobs did get kicked out of the very Apple company that he cofounded, but later returned.

The same goes for Martine Rothblatt, born Martin Rothblatt, who blazed new and uncharted intellectual and career trails with Sirius radio and then founded and still runs United Therapeutics, just four blocks from my former office. Counter to the career coaches who warn people about what their potential and actual employers might think about their social media posting, Martine lives her life as the real McCoy, including to the point of laying bare her views about nanotechnology, and this great talk I uploaded four years ago about not being able to define sexuality merely by one’s gonads.

Will professors at top business schools warn that Jobs and Rothblatt reached their heights in spite of the odds against those who break from conventional teachings on how to succeed in business? Will high school teachers and career counselors warn students to focus on learning the basics — while risking being mind- and creativity-numbed in the process — before considering defying convention?

Then we have the people who are so driven to achieve that they don’t let the naysayers and obstacles derail them from their path. With me, for instance, I barely considered a relative who responded to my stated interest in going to law school to do trial work by saying that one needs to be a good actor to be a good trial lawyer, and that I had not proven myself as an actor. Perhaps my great trial teacher Steve Rench did not appear as a child to teachers and grownups as a great actor, either. He looks unassuming and uncharismatic, and then he opens his mouth, and his ordinary exterior looks melt away as his magic pervades the room.

When a fellow bar taker learned that I was taking the Maryland bar exam when he had chosen the safe Pennsylvania bar exam, he proclaimed how brave I was to be taking the Maryland exam; my table mate in the bar exam cavern kvetched about expecting to have to retake the bar in the following winter, but she failed that re-exam as well. I passed the bar exam not without recognizing that passing was not a guarantee, but approaching the exam viewing passage as essential, and I passed, enjoying both mornings with a neighborhood walk that included the inherently bizarre humor of the nearby Bromo Seltzer tower.

When in 1991 I resolved to transition to criminal defense from corporate law, a criminal law professor at the nearby University of the District of Columbia law school warned me that the vast majority of criminal defendants obtain public defender or court-appointed counsel, leaving limited opportunity to earn a living with retained criminal defense clients; I learned soon after becoming my own boss in 1998 that his words were hollow for me. When the lawyer who drafted our partnership agreement wondered skeptically to my former law partner Jay Marks and me “Are you really going to go through with this?”, his words might as well have been in Mongolian or some other language we did not know; and our law firm quickly succeeded. Despite significant bouts of doubt about my then-future life and career path before becoming my own boss, I had already learned and followed Steve Jobs’s advice to “find what you love” long before he had even uttered those words.

Why are humans the only animal that feel they need psychoanalysts, life and career coaches, and self-help books to help them succeed? Birds, fish, bears and all other animals seem to do just fine without all of that, and even without doctors, health insurance and teeth brushing. As Wayne Dyer aptly reminds us, we come from abundance and abundance is naturally within our grasp. For too many years I saw life too much in shades of gray, dwelling too much on life’s obstacles and the inhumane actions of too many, rather than remembering to light candles rather than to curse the darkness.

Many people inspire me to reach my full potential. They include my wife, my son, my friend and peace teacher Jun Yasuda, Steve RenchSunWolf, my taijiquan teachers Julian Chu and Ben Lo, Ho’oponopono teacher and proponent Ihaleakala Hew Len, Ven. Thubten ChodronRam Dass, Jon Kabat Zinn, Wayne Dyer, Thich Nhat Hanh, and the Dalai Lama.

We also have much to learn from those who have reached greatness going through rough and tumble situations. My teacher Claude Anshin Thomas certainly qualifies, having dedicated himself to living and teaching peacefulness, kindness and calmness, after having by his own admission killed around two hundred people during the Vietnam War; having next pickled himself in drugs, alcohol, and sex; and finally becoming a mendicant Buddhist monk who recognizes the demons that still haunt him and does his best to use those demons as a lesson for himself and others to overcome the dark struggles that all of us confront.

Curiously, three people with connections one way or the other to the Congo also qualify for having reached greatness through rough and tumble situations. One is Patrice Lumumba, an early leader of independent Congo, after the brutal treatment of the Congolese people by Belgian King Leopold II and the Belgian government. In fully jingoistic fashion, the London Guardian in 1960 panned as an affront to then-present Belgian king Baudoin, Patrice Lumumba’s impromptu independence speech underlining Belgium’s colonial oppression. Lumumba included in his speech:

Our wounds are too fresh and too smarting for us to be able to have known ironies, insults, and blows which we had to undergo morning, noon and night because we were Negroes. We have seen our lands spoiled in the name of laws which only recognized the right of the strongest. We have known laws which differed according to whether it dealt with a black man or a white.

We have known the atrocious sufferings of those who were imprisoned for their political opinions or religious beliefs and of those exiled in their own country. Their fate was worse than death itself. Who will forget the rifle-fire from which so many of our brothers perished, or the gaols in to which were brutally thrown those who did not want to submit to a regime of justice, oppression and exploitation which were the means the colonialists employed to dominate us?”

Lumumba’s assassination less than three months later apparently was strongly backed at the very least by those within the Belgian, American and British governments. Born in 1925, that put Lumumba in just his mid-thirties when he became the Congo’s first prime minister, after over seventy five years of brutal colonial rule.

The dismally and brutally corrupt Mobutu Sese Seku took over as dictator of the Congo/Zaire five year after Lumumba’s assassination, and ran the nation with so many possibilities into the ground. Boxing promoter Don King and boxer Muhammad Ali were beyond ill-advised to choose Mobutu’s dictatorial Zaire (followed in 1975 by Ali’s Rumble in the Jungle fight in dictatorial Philippines) for what became the thirty-two-year-old Ali’s 1974 upset victory over George Forman, who was favored 50-to-one by the bookmakers. Despite Ali’ years-long haughtiness and the very violence of boxing, Ali inspires me not only for taking on Foreman and the oddsmakers, but even more importantly for risking losing — and losing — his eligibility to fight for many years in the United States by his refusal to be drafted during the Vietnam War that resulted in a conviction that the Supreme Court reversed in 1971 for an insufficiently articulated denial of conscientious objector status to Ali.

As controversial as he might be, Don King certainly is a lesson for transcending hurdles to success, including poverty and prison time. King grew up poor, served prison time for manslaughter, hurled himself into great financial and celebrity heights, and kept having great ups and downs. I am not fond that King honored Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez as King’s friend right until after Chavez’s death, and I know that no love is lost between King and many boxers he has promoted. Nevertheless, although he recognized racial and life barriers that exist, he refused to let those barrier daunt him, and spectacularly transcended those barriers. As a footnote, the 1957 bombing of Don King’s home led police to force their strongarm investigating ways into Dollree Mapp’s home, leading to the Supreme Court’s landmark decision extending the exclusionary rule to the states.

When any of my clients claims his or her world is wounded or over because of my client’s case, I remind my client both that we must fight for as much victory as we can achieve, that the possibilities of defeat must not weaken our fight, and that any defeats do not preclude future success. All of us are born with the seeds of greatness.