Volume 66: The Bootstrap Delusion

Posted on 05/01/2012


Is it I-Can or We-Can?

I had a revelation the other day. Well, maybe not a revelation. Let’s just call it an astute observation with a hint of social relevance. My revelation observation came while listening to a variety of political pundits wax poetic about how “some” Americans (aka, minorities and those on the lower end of the socio-economic sphere) should emulate “insert random rich politician they’re trying to promote” and (here’s the punchline) “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps” and go to work. Really? I mean, that line of rhetoric doesn’t still work, does it? It’s just the positioning of political propaganda provided to pacify the populace, right? Then again, if they’re sellin’ it, that means someone is buyin’ it. My question is why? Why do Americans seem to believe, or want to believe, that someone can “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps”? Does believing something different run afoul with the American Dream? I don’t know. What I do know is that Americans, in general, need to wake up from their Matrixian dream state and realize that successful people – past, present, and future – had or will have some assistance along their path to fame and fortune. Those people who realize it, tend to fully appreciate their success; and those who don’t, tend to propagate The Bootstrap Delusion.

Even Columbus Had Help

Remember that rhyme we all learned as a kid? It was something like “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue” – blah, blah, blah. Stopping there can lead to misinformation and falling prey to the bootstrap delusion. Looking behind the cute rhymes and memorized “facts” needed to pass standardized tests, we realized that Columbus was financed by Ferdinand and Isabella. In fact, Columbus had tried for many years to get financing for his theoretical voyage to Asia. And yet, he gets credit today for “discovering” America. He gets a national holiday. And he gets a cute rhyme to be learned by school-aged kids in perpetuity. If we look throughout our history, we know the stories; but somehow our bootstrap delusion takes them out of focus. The pilgrims would have surely died were it not for the natives; but you have groups that claim to have “built” this country so we need to follow their directives. Say it with me…Bootstrap Delusion. It bothers me to see people suffering from Bootstrap Delusion Syndrome (BDS) because it makes them more selfish, close-minded, autocratic, dogmatic, condescending, less tolerant, and less willing to assist others find their paths to success. Why? Because they believe themselves to have achieved on their own; and, “if I can do it, so can you.” I think I just threw up in my mouth…

Overcoming BDS

So how did we get here? How did we contract BDS and, more specifically, why do we seek out references of reinforcement? The answer is, quite simply, because we want to believe that we can make it on our own. We don’t want to have to ask for help, or even acknowledge those who have helped us along the way. If you’ve read my musings before, you know that I believe in the ripple effect. I call it “where the rock hit the water”. For example, one of my rocks was a Japanese exchange student (Chika Nagasaki) that landed in my 11th grade Algebra II class. I was a good student, but was unmotivated and uninspired in that class until she came. Our battle for the best grade led me to a greater understanding of the coursework, which led to a better Math score on the SAT that summer, which led to many scholarship offers from numerous schools, etc. Those are the ripples of a rock dropped by Chika. I have never forgotten that year or those moments. In fact, it’s by remembering that I overcome BDS. I acknowledge those inspirational moments that propelled me along my way. I don’t just acknowledge them. I celebrate them because they remind me how connected we are as people on this planet. I celebrate them because it reminds me that I can learn something from every person I encounter. Remembering keeps me humble, grounded,  genuine, and sincere. It is those qualities that help me combat BDS.


Proverbs 11:2 states, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” It makes you think, doesn’t it? Could it be pride that is fueling our BDS? Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” If we are to continue to survive and thrive as a nation, we have to let go of our individual pride, and start taking pride in the collective achievements of all. Ultimately, we have to ask the question, “Who gains from us having BDS?” If we are all out there toiling on our own trying to find some bootstraps so we can pull ourselves up, status quo remains king; and the wealthy remain wealthy. Sure, a few of us will become “independently wealthy” (I love oxymoronic nature of that term) and have our story edited and told over and over on a 24-hour news cycle; but at what cost? I was recently watching the NFL Draft and love to see all the people around the potential draftee as he awaits the call. Many see the entourages, groupies, and greedy family members that will pull and tug on the athlete like a redneck on the collar of a tuxedo, LOL! Admittedly, I see those things too. However, I also see the nameless and faceless network of friends and family that drove to games, that stayed on them about getting their grades to remain eligible, that woke them up for their workouts, that worked out with them, that fought with them, that laughed with them, and yes, that cried with them. They know the story of the athlete. They are just the silent part of it. Finally, I say, I believe that you can pull yourself up by your own bootstraps as long as you remember that it’s not just you wearing the shoes.

That’s just my three cents…


“Peep my ver-na-cular cuz I don’t know how to act…”