America is gravely ill.
By now, many of you have already leapt to the assumption that I am speaking of the current phenomenon known as the Coronavirus. You would be mistaken. The Coronavirus plays an ancillary role in the current pathological state of America from a social, cultural, political and most importantly, a spiritual context. America is suffering from the Four Sicknesses.
Before I explain what the Four Sicknesses are and how they apply to America’s current and historical state of affairs, I’ll relate to you probably the wisest self-protection advice I have ever received. It was not given to me by any of my martial arts instructors. It was given to me by a seasoned Correctional Officer during the infancy of my career in Alabama’s Kilby Prison.
“Son, prisons have a heartbeat. Before you cross that threshold past these bars and step out on that tier, stop and ask yourself what you feel. Once you learn what is normal here, you’ll be able to feel when something is wrong.”
I carried those words with me throughout my professional life, and they have once again proven themselves to be worth their weight in gold. Like a prison, communities and societies have heartbeats. Like the human body of the individual, communities have a collective health that can be impacted by social, cultural, political, and intervening factors such as war, famine, disease, and pestilence. The current diagnosis of America’s collective heartbeat is best characterized as atrial fibrillation, commonly known as AFib, a condition in which the heart beats at an irregular pace, often quivering. This can lead to deadly conditions such as blood clots, stroke, and heart failure.
To determine what the state of your community’s heartbeat is, you first must understand your community. You must know what is normal. You must know what is outside the realm of everyday norms. You must be able to feel when something is off. Just like individual intuition, a collective intuition that is gleaned as a functioning member of your community serves as a barometer that tells you: Something isn’t right. Have you had this feeling lately? Have you felt that something is off, but like a stubborn individual has denied that they are experiencing an irregular heartbeat that could lead to a fatal heart attack? Be honest in your introspection. Consider this.
The Four Sicknesses is a concept that is endemic to the martial arts school in which I was trained. They infect every individual, trained in the martial arts or otherwise. For the martial artist that becomes aware of the four sicknesses, the ultimate goal is to recognize them and suppress them to the greatest extent possible. It is fantasy to believe that the four sicknesses can totally be eradicated. The key is to suppress them in order to keep them from metastasizing and mutating into a paralyzing disease.
The first sickness is ego. Loosely defined, ego is a concept that defines a person’s self-importance, thereby impacting their self-esteem. Ego is not necessarily bad. It is human nature to want and need to feel important, needed, valued, and respected. As martial artists, the sickness of ego comes into play when it is allowed to fester into source of pride and boastfulness. This leads to the second sickness of illusion. A person whose ego has been allowed to swell now lives in an untested version of the self. Yes, they may be highly trained. They have been told how skilled and talented they are. But they have never truly been tested against an equally or more skilled opponent. They are a phantom, in that the reality in which they sense their perceived self is not verifiable, thus masking the true identity.
Then something happens that brings about the third sickness of doubt. For the martial artist, this may take the form of an embarrassing defeat in training with a new training partner. It may arise during an examination that does not go as expected. The artist now doubts not only his or her ability, but their overall skill and knowledge base. This manifests itself in the fourth sickness of perplexity. A malaise of confusion envelopes the person. Who am I? Am I as good as I thought I was? Have I been living a lie? The ego has been shattered, and the illusion has been identified as what it is: a phantom of a person that did not exist to begin with.
Taken together, the Four Sicknesses lead to the debilitating disease of fear.
What does this have to do with American society? Quite a bit actually, especially if you consider what has transpired over the recent past with the attention being paid to the Coronavirus.
For over 100 years, America has been seen as a superpower. America has been the most dominant military and economic force known to mankind in recorded history, at least that is what we have believed about ourselves. These colors don’t run. America, love it or leave it. A natural sense of patriotism and national pride ran amuck. Ego, the first sickness, exploded with booming economic periods and a victory in World War II against the likes of Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. America was a force in which to be reckoned. In America, a nation had no greater find, and no worse enemy. Thee second sickness was entrenched in the national DNA. The illusion of a never-ending superpower permeated the soul of the country.
Then doubt, with its razor-sharp claws, creeped in. A stalemate in Korea. The national tragedy that was the Vietnam Conflict in which 58,000 precious souls lost their lives to a schizophrenic foreign policy. The allies we had in World War II were now mortal enemies in a period known as the Cold War. And then came September 11, 2001. In an event that had the capacity to unite a country across generations, that hope was short lived. What followed was a quagmire of military, economic, and foreign policy blunders that continue on as of this writing.
Today, it seems as if perplexity is omnipresent. What is happening to us? Where is the America that we all knew and believed in as children?
Th disease of fear is now ravaging the soul of America.
We have no one to blame but ourselves for our current situation. The Coronavirus has shown itself to be a wakeup call. Will it be heeded? That is a difficult question to answer. Our neighbors-Americans-are terrified. They are terrified of something microscopic that they cannot see, nor can they even prove it exists. But the Coronavirus is not the issue. How we got to this point is the issue.
For many years now, Americans have been drifting apart. Your political, cultural, and spiritual beliefs are irrelevant. In the past, we all shared a common bond. We may have disagreed on many things, but at the end of the day we all knew we were in this thing called life together. That isn’t true anymore. If a person supports Donald Trump, another person believes they are the devil. If a person does not support Donald Trump, then they hate America. This chasm is not only foolish, it is inevitably destructive. Read on.
A true believer is the most dangerous person alive. They do not fear death. They believe in their cause to the exclusion of everything else in life. True believers are members of al-Qaeda. True believers were people such as Adolf Hitler that believed in a cause so deeply he was willing to take his own life rather than suffer humiliation through capture by the advancing Red Army. True believers are individuals such as Timothy McVeigh, who see the United States Government as a source of evil that can only be confronted and ultimately changed through barbarism.
We are living in a country of true believers that have yet to fully evolve. There are those that are calling the Coronavirus “Donald Trump’s Virus,” as if he had the ability or the capacity to stop microbial particles, the perfect killing machine, from being transported around the world in a highly globalized society inside the bodies of unsuspecting victims. Conversely, there are those that believe the Coronavirus is a plot to destroy the President of the United States politically. Let’s stop and think about this on two key points. First, if it was known with any credible evidence that the United States knowingly unleashed a deadly illness on China for political purposes, it is not far-fetched to believe that the leader of that country would have had a moral obligation to turn Washington DC into a pile of radioactive ash in defense of his people. Second, we have to assume that Donald Trump represents a clear and present danger to the alleged political establishment that is entrenched in Washington DC and every capital in the world. The last time a politician represented this level of threat to the political establishment we were given a glimpse of the inside of his cranium on national television in Dallas, Texas. Both of these positions are absurd, and they miss the point.
The Coronavirus is a warning sign. My martial arts training was unorthodox. Indeed, my teacher was a high-level practitioner. He was also a former clandestine operator in the British military. He had vast experience outside of the military with groups of people that, if encountered, would cause the most hardened of Americans to soil their underpants. He taught me how to look at the world differently. He taught me that his martial art offered a comprehensive world view that would impact every aspect of my life, and it has. He taught me how to recognize warning signs of danger that are imperceptible to the vast majority of people. The Coronavirus is a warning sign in a long list of warning signs that as Americans, we have missed and willfully disregarded.
We have lost our identify. We have lost our way morally as a country. The fear that is being experienced is real. People are scared, and rightfully so because they have no idea what to expect, nor can they trust anyone to tell them the truth on either side of the political spectrum.
Scripture teaches us to shake the dust from our sandals when we try to reach others, and they simply will not listen. Do what you can for your friends and family. Reach those that you can. As for the true believers, leave them to their own devices.
I relate to my clients in my courses that my ultimate goal is to give them a sense of hope. Look deep inside of who you are, and who you want to be as a person. It isn’t too late. But you have to be willing to recognize the symptoms of the sicknesses that are telling you that something is amiss. My hope is that we all can do that, and history will show that the Coronavirus was nothing more than a heeded warning that we were individually and collectively travelling down the wrong path.