Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Right Questions for America's Future -- Copyright 2010, John Lawrence Gillis

IMPORTANT: There is no apostrophe in URL address

Dear Friends and Colleagues of the Immediate Future,

This blog will serve as a brief and informal introduction to the upcoming website. It is intended to inspire passionate brainstorming among invited thinkers and doers. As you review the following, you should quickly discover "your" right question and why you've been invited to become one of its leaders and advocates.

With your help, The Right Questions for America's Future could become the literal "reinauguration" of John F. Kennedy's most famous words: "Ask not..." What makes the RQs unique is that they point to a better future in every area of American life: economic and cultural vibrancy; a more disciplined pursuit of personal excellence; etc. They also dare to pursue our happiness.

Many of the RQs will also provide significant grist for one's civic conscience, just as JFK intended.

And because it wouldn't be America otherwise, there are questions relating to our national motto "In God We Trust," but guaranteed to breach no church-state boundaries.

At the risk of being excommunicated from Altruism, it is my unfortunate duty to report there are also great fortunes to be made with many of the questions. I can all but guarantee Wall Street fireworks, real estate booms, and countless new business ventures, micro to multinational. (Did I just hear somebody say "It wouldn't be America otherwise"?) See RQs 23, 24, 25 and 54, with their footnotes, and RQ 40, which many of you may consider "the question of the century."

I apologize for the formatting limitations of this preliminary site, the most frustrating of which is that its programming does not allow indentations or subdivisions. It looks nowhere near as pretty or professional as we both prefer, but I'm confident you'll forgive me in the end.

And so, my fellow Americans, ask...

  1. Which of the following are just as important for America's future as electing the right leaders: A. The discipline of living up to our full potential; B. Answering the call to heroic citizenship -- even during the best of times; C. Strengthening all our relationships, and building new relationships across all boundaries; D. Multiplication of our countless blessings, at home and abroad; E. Stunning new solutions to intractable problems -- just in time; F. "A firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence" (from the Declaration of Independence); G. Eternal optimism!
  2. What examples should America lead by -- in governance; in our economy and our culture; on the world stage; and in our daily interactions?
  3. What are the best immediate rewards for pursuing long-term goals?
  4. It is well established that humans are capable of developing new and better habits in 21 days. What are the most proven methods for accomplishing this? When can we begin? **4
  5. How would you describe your perfect job, i.e., one that employs all your strengths and potential? **5
  6. How can we build an economy in which the goals of making a living and unleashing human potential are equally valued?
  7. What are the most brain-friendly paths toward longer (and deeper) attention spans? **6
  8. How can we guide the "holy curiosity" of every child toward a lifelong passion for learning?
  9. How can the theory and practice of curiosity-based learning be developed for all ages?
  10. How can the first day of the first grade become one of the most anticipated days of childhood?
  11. For classmates and coworkers: What would it take to look forward to Monday morning? **11
  12. How can we immunize ourselves to the effects of chronic stress on our health, on our relationships, on our job performance, and on our brain function?
  13. How can our ability to remain calm during crises affect their outcome?
  14. What are your right questions for your next doctor's visit?
  15. On the day after 9/11, nearly every American asked "How can I help?" How can "the Spirit of September 12" become our way of life?
  16. Are we living our freedom in ways that would make those who died for it proud? **16
  17. Could you ever vote for a candidate who advocated "shared sacrifice"? Is the very idea of sacrifice un-American these days?
  18. When should we start making promises to each other that we'll keep for the rest of our lives? When should we stop?
  19. Where can our friends and family volunteer together over the weekend and where can we meet afterwards to celebrate?
  20. Could it be that we are mostly responsible for the $13 trillion federal debt?
  21. How many billions can we save by volunteering to become less dependent on government spending?
  22. For baby boomers: How can we guarantee that our retirement years won't bankrupt our government or our kids?
  23. Should Congress designate the last Tuesday of October (corresponding to the Wall Street crash of 1929) as a day to encourage investments in the long-term health of our economy? **23
  24. What are your nominations for the private sector's first trillion dollar project? **24
  25. Could there ever be a millionaire saint? **25
  26. How can the best and brightest students be persuaded to choose careers in which money is a secondary consideration? Is this blasphemy?
  27. Are we morally exempt from caring about the fate of the poor if "they brought it on themselves"? What about their kids?
  28. How can we meet basic human needs at the least possible cost?
  29. Which is the greater evil: cynicism or apathy?
  30. How can an entire neighborhood -- even a dangerous neighborhood -- become more like an extended family?
  31. Could a better definition of manhood change the world? How can giving "idle" young men a good cause (or at least employment) change the world again?
  32. How quickly can we establish respect and rapport among people of widely different backgrounds?
  33. Where and when can citizens from all walks of life have a great time together?
  34. What are the conversational skills -- at work and at home -- that respectfully solve problems and lead to practical plans of action?
  35. What are the conversations that could cut the divorce rate in half?
  36. How can something as simple and brief as expressing appreciation for one another more often significantly improve our lives?
  37. Are the words "Good job!" good for the GNP?
  38. How can we prove to our bosses' satisfaction that more frequent breaks at work actually improve productivity?
  39. How about this for an international Twitter contest: "Change the world in 30 words or less"?
  40. Is it possible to increase global prosperity and decrease global warming simultaneously?
  41. How could our promotion of global prosperity enhance national security?
  42. How quickly can we move to a clean energy economy with the fewest casualties along the way?
  43. What are the most brilliant "failures" of the past whose time has finally come?
  44. How can the most promising new ideas, inventions and products be brought more quickly to the mainstream?
  45. What are your nominations for: new American traditions and rites of passage; small changes that could have large and lasting impact; "better solutions" that could save big money?
  46. For American youth: What would you change about American youth culture? **46
  47. In conditions that are safe and well supervised, how can our younger children bring significantly more joy to the world? **47
  48. Is "generosity in all things" the best way to live up to our national motto ("In God We Trust")?
  49. How can we trust God more completely -- even during our trials?
  50. How can God trust us more completely -- even with our flaws?
  51. How often can we pray together -- simultaneously -- and what shall we pray for? **51
  52. To what degree can we -- or should we -- help God bring about the positive outcomes we pray for?
  53. A ridiculous question: Do we spend time with good friends because of what they can do for us or for the "pleasure of their company"? Can we say the same of the time we spend with God? **53
  54. How can architecture, landscape design and interior design help bring us closer to God and each other? Where can we build new communities reflecting these designs? **54
  55. Where are the least holy places we can establish holy ground?
  56. How can we generate good news (covered by media) and positive statistics with our answers to all of the above?
  57. How many of these questions will human nature forbid us from answering?
  58. Does America's future ultimately depend on "the better angels of our nature" winning?
  59. What are the smartest "stupid questions" we can ask?
  60. Should "asking the right questions" become democracy's primary artform?
  61. True or false: the American Revolution has barely begun!

**4 JLG's proposal: "Personal Victory Days" June 20 through July 4 fireworks.

**5 And how can we discover the strengths of those who don't believe they have any?

**6 Fact: competing in the 21st century economy requires a workforce capable of dealing with ever greater complexity. Coming soon: the triumphant return of "singletasking"!

**11 Sarcastic answers, e.g., "it's a federal holiday," are permitted only if followed by a serious answer!

**16 Uncle Sam would like to recruit purple-heart recipients to pose this question on camera to visitors at Arlington Cemetery.

**23 But we shouldn't wait for Congress to act before observing the day ourselves. For those of you interested in pursuing this question now, consider organizing an informal group of clients or fellow investors to begin the tradition this coming October 26. It should be an interesting exercise to identify the companies that can best contribute to America's long-term economic health. Our next task will be macroeconomic scenario planning -- based not merely on current trends but also on more humane intentions (e.g., "unleashing human potential").

**24 A new American city?

**25 The first obvious answer is "no," because any true saint would follow the scriptural principle of giving away all his or her money to the poor. But what if the millionaire lived modestly and leveraged his or her money in ways that allowed a far greater number to lift themselves out of poverty than if he had given it all away?

**46 "Youth culture" is here defined in all senses of the term: music, media, values, social lives, etc. Please feel encouraged to answer in the form of a viral video.

**47 Imagine kindergartners in costumes visiting nursing homes on a Saturday afternoon,with abundant riddles, songs and "we love you"s.

**51 For this and other purposes I will be promoting "the hourly sabbath" -- the seventh part of the hour beginning at :51 minutes after the hour. Imagine the heavenly effect of millions praying together for several minutes at least once a day. I also foresee a nationally televised "Simultaneous Prayer of Thanksgiving." At least 80 percent of Americans say the thanksgiving prayer each year. With significant promotion, especially by America's religious leaders and with ample prime time PSAs, I believe we can achieve a "miraculous statistic" that God would surely approve of: a simultaneous prayer of thanksgiving with a majority of Americans (at least 51 percent) participating.

**53 This question was inspired by one of my favorite authors, Philip Yancey, in his book Prayer

**54 I dream of prayer rooms with stained glass windows, of attics as "house churches," of backyard gazebos with crosses on top!

****** *

So, are you my friend or colleague of the immediate future yet?

These 61 questions (based on the 61 letters of Kennedy's 17 famous words) are far from the final version, and will require revision and even rethinking before they are ready for the national stage on their official website. Again, I seek your wisdom and creativity in shaping the content of the debut site, based on our "perfect brainstorms."

But I am also interested in getting our "right answers" off the ground immediately, for inclusion in the debut site. I want to see videos of prayer rooms with stained glass windows and backyard gazebos with crosses on top. I want to see kindergartners spreading joy at nursing homes and purple heart vets engaging the conscience of tourists at Arlington Cemetery. I want to see your brilliant talking head offering stunning insights, and a millionaire saint or two (Muhammad Yunus or you) denying your "sainthood"!

I also envision The Right Questions as a segment on one of my proposed prime time television series, with the working title America Rising. I am tempted to share my strategy for making this the most popular show on network tv, along with all the other certainties of how successful and prosperous our efforts will be. But for now, I need to be careful with whom I share the treasure map.

And now a brief word about the origin and evolution of the RQs. Although I didn't know it at the time, the seed was planted on my 12th birthday, November 22, 1963. (If you're of a certain younger age, look it up!) Later that wretched day, just before I fell asleep, it occurred to me that the best way to honor JFK's memory would be to "ask what we can do for our country." The idea for "reinaugurating" these words came after Ronald Reagan's prime time speech commemmorating the 20th anniversary of Kennedy's death, and The Right Questions for America's Future emerged as the frame and title for my life's work in 1993 (but not on the 30th anniversary). It has been a life of constant reading and rethinking and rewriting ever since, as it will continue to be for as long as the old gray matter allows.

You will no doubt have at least 61 of your own questions about the RQs, and about me (as in "who is this guy?" or "who does this guy think he is?"). But if there are any of you who discount the worthiness of these questions because you've never heard of the author, allow me to share a "review" of my JFK-inspired work by his very own brother, the late great Senator Ted. Years ago I wrote him about how influential his brother's inaugural address had been on my calling, and this was his response:

"Your letter revealed a deep commitment to the achievement of some very worthy goals and ideals, a commitment which I heartily endorse. The struggle against tyranny, poverty, and war is an eternal one that has enlisted some of the greatest men [and women] in history and one that will continue to progress with the help of dedicated individuals such as yourself."

My prayer is that you will endorse my commitment as well. I have devoted my entire adulthood not to a career but to the solitary scholarship and creative thinking summarized by what you've just read. And that's why you haven't heard of me just yet.

True or false: "Now the trumpet summons us again."

If you hear it, please contact me via email: mailto:TheRightQuestions@gmail.com, or call me at 202-256-0521, best during morning hours.

And please feel free to forward this to a few (but only a few) of your own friends or colleagues most likely to hear it as well.

John Lawrence Gillis

Washington DC

IMPORTANT: There is no apostrophe in URL address