I’m a small-business owner. The business is called Steven Kalas Counseling & Consultation, which I know is interminably dull. But the alternative was to go cute and cheesy. Like, Parched Desert Rainstorm Awakenings. So I opted for dull.
The Internal Revenue Service calls me a sole proprietor. I’m the only employee. My employer is a real tightwad, providing no vacation time or medical insurance. I even have to buy my own coffee and accouterment.
My peers tell me my private counseling practice is a success. But, as I listen to the news this past month, apparently there is a much more important question at hand: Is this success to my credit? Is my success because I’m really smart and worked hard? Did I build my own business? Or did President Barack Obama build it?
Modern politics reminds me of modern advertising technique: If you watch, you are encouraged to be afraid of or concerned about a lot of problems that, prior to watching, you didn’t know you had. I refer, of course, to a July 13 speech given by the president, one surgically isolated word group including, "If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that Somebody else made that happen." (www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKjPI6no5ng)
According to a ton of politicians and journalists, I’m supposed to be deeply offended and frightened by Obama’s comments. Especially if you want Mitt Romney to be our next president, you want me to know that here Obama shows his true colors. He hates America. He is attempting to seduce me into believing that, without big government, I can’t survive. He wants to turn us all into sheep, like the Eloi people in the movie version of H.G. Wells’ "The Time Machine," who, when the siren sounds, walk trancelike into the dark underworld of the Morlocks to be cannibalized.
On the other hand, if you want Obama to serve a second term, you’ll point out that the pronoun "that" in the offending sentence is regrettably ambiguous. That Obama got caught up in a moment of extemporaneous enthusiasm and blurred his context. He meant by "that" the roads and bridges on which you drive to work. Indeed, he begins the speech by saying, "If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own," and ends it by saying, "When we succeed, we succeed on our own individual initiative but also because we do things together."
For me, the one silver lining in this contrived controversy is that it invites a discussion that matters greatly in the equation of being human: The dance of pride and gratitude.
Back to my "successes," in business or any other facet of life
Somebody along the line gave me some help? No, more like "somebodies." Plural. More than I can count. Along the many tangled lines of my life, I am stupid rich in teachers. And countless more people whom I shall never meet but whose words I have read. Every day, these folks’ words come out of my mouth. Add to this people who took the risk of hiring me. Investing in me. Believing in me. Opening possibilities to me that I was too insecure to even consider.
When patients say "thank you" to me after a successful course of counseling, I don’t first feel "proud of myself" for smarts and hard work. I feel a blush of my own trembling gratitude. And I invariably say the same thing: "It was an honor. Thank you for sharing your life with me."
Same feeling I get when someone says I’m a good father. Sure, I’ve tried to be, but mostly I feel lucky to know my sons at all. Blessed that they provide me, every day, a chance to redeem my own wounds and my mistakes. Kinda giddy that they still like me.
Nobody is successful in this world without a list of people to thank. That seems to me self-evident. The older I get, the less important it seems to worry about getting proper credit and recognition. I could spend the rest of my life trying to express the whole of my gratitude and still not get it done. But I’m going to try. And that just doesn’t leave a whole lot of free time to ruminate about whether someone is trying to steal my thunder.
In my early 20s, a friend once said to me: "The only thing a man has is his pride. You take that away, and he’s got nothing." Sounded right, and I quickly affirmed the utterance with a manly nod and grunt.
Today I think that, if you took away a man’s pride, he might have more room for gratitude.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of "Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing" (Stephens Press). His columns also appear on Sundays in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at 227-4165 or firstname.lastname@example.org.