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American Innovation

By Mike Swetnam

The four Noble Truths of Buddhism all have to do with suffering. Buddha said that all suffering comes from desire and ignorance. As a long suffering example of humanity, I can clearly see the logic and truth in this.

Yet desire for something different and better is one of the most motivating forces in our society. Innovation is often tied to ones desire to make the process, product, or art better. It is the need and/or desire to create, inspire, and garner respect, love, and recognition that moves individuals to great heights.

The great success of the United States is often linked with our innovative spirit. We are a country fueled by generations of immigrants attracted to our shores by the promise (and desire) for something better—the opportunity to build a life better than they had at home. When they got here most worked exceedingly hard to make sure that their children had it better than they did. This was desire-driven innovation and hard work.

Ignorance has its place as well. Not knowing something is thought to be impossible allows many to accomplish the impossible. We are often educated in ways that build a box around our thoughts. Being ignorant of the walls that others expound is often a good thing.

One of the great downfalls of our modern education system is that information is almost totally presented as fact to be accepted and not challenged. Knowing accepted wisdom (what people call facts) is greatly preferred over questioning everything in an effort to seek new truths. Young impressionable minds are quickly taught to accept common knowledge and seek to conform. Not knowing and accepting common knowledge is called ignorance.

Yet human history is full of examples of “common knowledge” being proven wrong by new research, crazy theories proven correct, or bold entrepreneurs who are willing to do what they think is right even though all others say it is ignorant or stupid. Bill Gates, Bill Joy, and Steve Jobs come to mind.

The point is that finding peace and serenity through an acceptance of what is known, comfortable, and at hand is a worthy goal. It will surely lead to the peace and tranquil life that Buddha spoke of. It will also lead to a totally stagnate society where little new knowledge is added and little progress is made.

To further our evolution and growth as a species, we need to desire something better and be ignorant of accepted wisdom.

Innovation, particularly American innovation, needs the driving force of desire and ignorance of what others think is impossible.