Jamie and I visited Monticello this weekend, the home (plantation) Thomas Jefferson built and lived in at various points throughout his life. We had a great trip and I learned a lot. Unfortunately, I found it easy to breeze through history class without actually absorbing anything, so much of history is new for me!
There is so much to share about this, but I realized as I reflect on the visit (Jefferson is Jamie’s historical hero, so this reflection seemed very important), two things really stood out for me that may be of interest to my readers. The first is that Jefferson, in writing the Declaration of Independence, was ignorant! (I’ll explain in a minute.) The second is that Jefferson, today, would be considered highly irresponsible! If you have read my free ebook (sign up to the right), you will know that I enjoy flipping conventional “wisdom,” or society’s accepted “rules,” on its head. This insight about Jefferson gives me the perfect opportunity to do that.
Jefferson was ignorant as he wrote the Declaration of Independence. Ignorant (adj) – unaware because of a lack of relevant information or knowledge. I will not get his exact words correct here (now that I am a blogger I must get in the habit of writing these things down), but essentially, when Jefferson was asked to compose the Declaration, in his mind he was simply writing down everything that the general public in the New World believed to be true. To him, he truly did “hold these truths to be self-evident.” He ASSUMED everybody else did too – wasn’t it obvious that we were created equal? That we had the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? That government should derive its power from the consent of the governed?
Imagine his surprise when he observed people’s reaction to what he had composed! This brilliant perspective was NOT obvious to others, who were accustomed to being governed by a Monarch that did not ask for their consent. Because he was so intelligent and insightful, and believed in his intuition about how the world COULD work, he was ignorant to the fact that most people did not see this vision for a future. They had no idea this was possible, or at least had never thought it through. Thankfully he was able to paint a picture with his words that others could get behind and support with their lives, so that we could have the freedom we now enjoy.
Of course, I must relate this to your life today. 🙂 My clients also tend to be ignorant – of all of the fantastic things they see, know, and understand that those around them do not. What part of your vision for a future that would work for you and others could share with someone today? What are the chances that you hold some intuitive, gut, knowledge, perspective, or insight that would make a difference for others if you just expressed it – maybe even put it in writing? What would you create as an ideal future if you were nominated to be the author of such a document? You are the author of your future, you know!
The second thing that I took away was this: Jefferson was in debt to the tune of at least a million by today’s standards when he died (again, I need to write these things down more precisely J). If information were broadly available then, the way it is today, what would the reputation of this man have been in our world? Tiger Woods recently had a car accident and the whole of his reputation is on the line. How would Jefferson have gone down in history with the level of judgment we have today as it relates to money and one’s level of “responsibility” with it? We certainly would call it irresponsible to leave that kind of debt, which his descendants did eventually pay. We would probably forget all about that great document he authored, just as some people are willing to dismiss Tiger’s golf skill at the drop of a hat, because we found some fault with his character. (I found myself doing it to Jefferson – shocked that this smart man had lived beyond his means!)
Money is nothing more than a means of conveniently trading our talent and skill (at providing service or producing) with that of another. It is a paper that represents a value to the trader. Yet we judge entire human beings based on the way they handle this paper, regardless of their many other skills or talents.
Now, I am not saying its cool to acquire seven-figure debt if you happen to have done something good in life. But I am asking myself, when did it happen that one’s financial choices became the grandest, most relevant, representation of who one is? What other measures do we judge people (or ourselves – we truly are our own worst critic) by that are simply unwritten rules that we could change if we so chose? What views about money do you hold today that would have seemed strange in Jefferson’s time? What, if anything, would you like to stop judging yourself, or others, for?
Hope your Thanksgiving was happy and filled with gratitude. I am grateful for continuous learning, and for our power of choice.