15 Minutes

I believe in human nature, in the possibility of its redemption and in the power of its innate evolutionary impulse towards progress. Everything I think, say, and do is an expression of that belief. Everything else bores me. 

A lot has changed in my life since last week. I shared a personal story on my Facebook page about a deeply unsettling encounter my wife and I had with L.A. County police. I honestly thought my account would only be read by 5-10 people which is the normal amount of feedback I get for the things I post on social media. To my surprise, the response was utterly overwhelming. My post was shared over 2,000 times in less than 72 hours.  I was then contacted by FEE.org who requested to run my story. After adding some details, commentary, and editing, my story, Handcuffed and Helpless, was published on July 24th, 2015. To date, the FEE piece has been shared over 5,000 times. Two days ago, Newsweek ran my story. Within the time span of one week, I’ve received multiple phone calls and messages from several news reporters and police officers expressing a desire to speak with me. I also received many messages from people who came out of the closet and confessed their own stories of abuse and mistreatment. It was frightening, inspiring, bewildering, and encouraging all at once. Inspiring and encouraging because I had no idea that so many people would find strength through my story. Frightening and bewildering because I neither desire nor need all the extra attention. Nevertheless, this is my reality and I choose to engage it.

Since my story has appeared on Newsweek, my blog has been receiving a ton of traffic from people who I suppose are curious to know something about my background and agenda. There’s an urban legend that we’re all going to get at least 15 minutes worth of fame, that each of us will have a brief opportunity to command an inordinate amount of attention. From the looks of it, I may be in the middle of mine. And while I have never sought after such a spotlight, I think it behooves me to acknowledge it’s fleeting presence and to issue a statement about who I am and what I’m about for those who come knocking at by digital door.

T.K. Coleman, what is your agenda here?

My agenda today is the same as it was yesterday, last week, last year, and the year before that: to convince as many people as possible that they have the permission and power to be the predominant creative forces in their own lives. Although the topic I wrote about in my Newsweek piece is a highly politicized issue, I have never been persuaded by the belief that politics is the best way to create social change. Politics, in my opinion, is reactionary rather than creative. Politicians will always and only do a combination of what they can get away with, what their financial backers demand of them, and what the public holds them accountable to doing. A lot of good can come from this process as well as a lot of evil. In its essence, however, politics is only a secondary cause.

I believe that all the great revolutions are the result of ordinary people choosing to become better versions of themselves. My favorite example of this is Rosa Parks. The changes inspired by her courage were not initiated by politicians. Of course, the politicians had to follow along and support the will of the people, but they really didn’t have much of a choice. When people decide that they simply won’t accept anything less than freedom, autonomy, and respect, then politicians are compelled by their own self-interest to fall in line. They certainly have a role to play, but that role is secondary to the role that individuals play every single day when they make small choices about who they’re going to become in this world.   I’m not interested in telling anyone who to vote for. My agenda is to get people to take the notion of internal power more seriously. We can only cast a vote for politicians every so often, but we can cast votes for our own potential any day of the week. This is the realm I choose to occupy. I choose to devote my time and energy to making individuals, starting with myself, the best possible versions of themselves.

I believe that when we make ourselves better as individuals, our nation and our world will follow suit. Does political activity have anything to do with that? Sure, but I don’t think it’s the end-all-be-all so many people make it out to be. I cringe when I hear someone say “this is your one time to change the world” every election year because I think that’s one of the most disempowering messages we can tell young people. The American Revolution was not started by benevolent politicians who figured out a way to make the system work for everybody. It was started by individuals who took the risk of creating their own reality without asking for permission. I believe we can do the same. We can create a better world whether politicians listen to us or not. And even when they do listen to us, we don’t have to wait until their long and convoluted bureaucratic processes are complete before we can get on with the nuts & bolts of making good things happen. So that’s my agenda. It’s to encourage you and anyone else to take seriously the possibility that you are as much of a creative force as whoever you’ll be voting for this year; your talents, ideas, and convictions are as much of a harbinger of change as any of the lofty promises made by those who’ll say whatever it takes to get your vote.

We need to apprehend the people who did this to you. Can you tell us more about the events? What street were you on? What colors were you wearing? What was the exact date? Let’s do something about this!

The #1 assumption people make when reading my story is that I didn’t try to do anything about what happened to me or that I somehow failed to try hard enough. That’s a bit disheartening to hear because I believe I tried harder than most people would or could if they were in my situation. Moreover, it’s also sad to see how many assumptions people make about what you could or should do when you’re in a situation where you’re literally fearing for your life and the safety of your wife. Nevertheless let me clear the air on this issue one final time: Every single bit of information that I have has been shared with multiple officers some of whom I’ve spoken to in the past week. I am convinced beyond convincing that an exceedingly great effort has been made to do all that can be done about the unfortunate event that transpired three years ago. Frankly, I am completely over that part of things. I care about justice, but my healing process cannot sustain the nuisance of giving out all my information to every curious soul who thinks they’re going to be the Perry Mason archetype who cracks the case. I’ve had extended conversations with lawyers and police officers alike. That’s enough. I’ve made my peace with the possibilities and realities of being able to hold those two officers accountable. I am fighting a different battle now. I am fighting the battle of helping myself and others find the healing, inspiration, strength, and wisdom that comes from sharing our stories.

Why would you waste time telling your story if it can’t be used to incriminate the police officers who did this to you? Aren’t you perpetuating the problem?

To my surprise, this is an inquiry I’ve received from several people. This question arises out of a worldview that prioritizes political-based solutions so strongly that it almost becomes blind to the myriad of ways one can have a profound impact in spite of a lack of systemic change. Of course, one should seek to hold bad cops accountable whenever possible, but there is far more to the value of telling a story than getting bad cops fired. For starters, it’s part of my healing process. When people are abused, we move so quickly to discussions about what they should have done or what they should do that we forget how important it is for someone to process their own trauma. Even if you punish the instigator of an abusive experience, the victim needs specific processes and practices to help them cope with their situation. Learning to not live in fear is a tough challenge. Sometimes, telling your story can be a way forward. Sometimes, personal freedom begins with the simple but challenging decision to use your voice in whatever capacity you can.

Freedom is a voice
freedom is a song
freedom is the spirit
of a people who are strong
Bobby McFerrin, Freedom Is A Voice

When one person tells their story, it can help inspire others to do the same. I’ve received a plethora of messages from victims of abuse who found encouragement and validation in my story. Many of them told me that they were going to open up and share some dark secrets with their family members or therapist because of my story. Is that less significant than firing a couple of bad cops? I pity the one who answers that question “yes.” But let’s take this further. There’s even more good that’s come from this story. The exchange of information makes everyone smarter. Other people can learn from my story and I can learn from theirs. I’ve already been taught a few new things that I can do to better protect myself from future abuse and others have learned a few important things from observing my example. This is the kind of knowledge that can save lives and mitigate unnecessary harm. Here’s another take from a personal friend about why it might be valuable to tell stories like mine even if it doesn’t result in direct punishment of the offending party:

In the wake of some recent events I’ve had and witnessed quite a number of FB debates with people who almost literally believe that the police can do no wrong and that anyone detained or harmed must have brought it on himself. So stories like this, when credible, debunk those overgeneralizations and can challenge people to be willing to reconsider and not to assume, in a knee-jerk fashion, that the police are always right in a situation and must always be defended. I want to be clear here: I consider myself “hawkish” on crime and just about to the right of the right-wing. But that’s all the more reason for us to get all the data. A story like this is data. I want to be able to be tough on crime and supportive of the police in the right way, in an intelligent way, not in a knee-jerk way that invites a loss of civil liberties for everyone and that acts as a form of enablement for bullies with a badge. An anecdotal case like this tells us that such do exist, more than perhaps we would like to admit.

Many forms of abuse are perpetuated not merely because one or two people go unpunished, but often because of a widespread belief that certain types of people would never do certain types of things. So for me, it’s not just about incriminating a couple of bad law-enforcers, but it’s about inspiring storytellers. As I write this, my mind recalls the following Native American proverb: “Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.” By empowering more people to tell their story, we can spark individual and cultural transformation in ways that go beyond the process of making laws and punishing those who break them. Through storytelling, we can convey concepts and convictions that will live in people’s hearts forever.

Your story can’t be proven. People lie all the time. How do I know you didn’t make this whole thing up?

Proof is a funny thing sometimes. One of my favorite stories is how I proposed to my wife. Whenever I tell the story, people have all sorts of reactions. Some people laugh. Some people are impressed by my creativity. Some people are curious about how I managed to keep her from finding out. Some people want to know what my actual words were. Some people want to know if she cried. But no one has ever asked me to prove that I’m not making the story up. Here’s what’s funny about the story, though: most of the interesting parts that make the story worth telling are very difficult to prove. My wife was there and she can confirm I’m telling the truth, but she was also present at my police encounter so how much is her testimony really worth?

Most of the stories that change our lives are stories that can’t be proven with video footage or more than 1-2 eye witnesses. What we decide to believe involves a lot of factors. Sometimes we judge a story based on the fears we have about how other people may abuse the story in order to promote an agenda we don’t like. I had someone chastise me for telling my story simply because they’re afraid that “liberals will use it to promote their racially divisive ideologies.” Sometimes we take people’s word for it when we’ve had similar experiences, but we doubt their words when their stories are unlike our own. The persuasive power of personal testimony and eyewitness evidence depends on the knowledge we have of the event’s reporters as well as our own beliefs about what sorts of things are possible in the world. Since I was actually there, I can say I know it’s true. My wife was also there and she corroborates my story. Furthermore, I have no interest in monetizing my story or using it to advance any political candidates or causes. But you have to go with your own reason and intuition.

There’s a difference between knowing that something is true and showing that something is true. The former is simply a state of being aware. The latter is an ability or skill whose effectiveness can vary depending on a variety of factors. You can know that something is true, but still lack the ability to show that it’s true depending on the standards and biases of the person who demands proof. For instance, suppose I were to say “I have a headache.” How would you know if I’m telling the truth or not? If you’re a close friend or family member, you’d probably believe me. But if you’re initially skeptical of my motives, there’s no limit to your capacity to doubt what I’m saying. Even if I wince in pain or take two pills of Tylenol, you could still easily say “he’s just putting on a show for attention.” Your skepticism, however, wouldn’t deprive me of my right to legitimately claim I have a headache. My ability to know what I’m experiencing doesn’t depend on my ability to make a believer out of everyone who questions me.

I didn’t tell my story because I naively believed that everyone would accept it nor because I’m trying to audition for the Sean Hannity show. I told my story because my story is all I have. And just as it is fair for others to doubt it, it is fair for me to tell it. If you doubt my story, I simply ask you to be consistent. Hold everyone’s story to the same standards of evidence. Doubt isn’t the enemy. Selective skepticism is. Once we stop practicing selective skepticism, the power of critical thinking will guide us to truth.

What’s next? Are you going to go on the Bill O’Reilly show? Are you available for radio/podcast interviews?

Maybe. Maybe not. I’m not interested in having my story politicized. And it was never my intent to be on TV debating and discussing issues with political commentators and news reporters. I have a work to do. I have a life mission to fulfill. I have a spiritual purpose I was born to complete. When these 15 minutes of negligible fame pass away, I will still be focused on an agenda that precedes and supersedes my fleeting appearance in Newsweek. I still plan on using my voice for good and I’ll be cautiously open to any opportunities that feel right. I won’t run from my story, but I also have zero plans to shop it. I told my story solely because I was listening to my inner voice. I’m going to go back to doing that. If my inner voice guides me to make a certain kind of appearance or speak with a certain kind of person, I’ll follow it’s lead. But until it calls me in that direction, I’m going to heed it’s present invitation to do the work that my nature demands of me.

My story doesn’t make me who I am. Who I am is what makes the story. The story is an expression of me, but it is not the definition of me. The small little spotlight that’s currently shining on my story will eventually grow dim, but my individual portion of the brilliance that shines within every human soul will always be there waiting for me to cultivate it, manifest it, and use it for the good of others. So that’s what I’m going to primarily focus on.

The Past Seven Weeks

I’ve been on the road for the past month and a half. In June I went to San Francisco to represent Praxis at the Thiel Summit and celebrate the graduation of our Fall 2014 Praxis class. I spent the rest of the month at Chapman University in Orange County giving a variety of talks on entrepreneurship, economics, and education for The Foundation of Economic Education. Most recently, I took my first trip to New York to attend the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival as celebration for my brother’s 40th birthday. Since my lifestyle has been such a stop and go experience, I’ve been doing the travel version of my PDP for the last seven weeks. I look forward to resuming the full version next week. Since my last PDP entry, I’ve penned some blog posts for Medium and I’ve done a couple of podcast interviews. If you’re interested in checking them out, you can find the links below.

Is ‘Follow Your Passion’ Good Advice, or Cheesy Claptrap?

For years we’ve been told things like “follow your bliss” and “do what you love and the money will follow.” Now there’s an emerging group of thought-leaders telling us things like “follow your passion is bad advice” and “don’t follow your passion, follow your effort.” Who’s right? Should we follow our passions or not?

A Note to Young Dreamers Who Don’t Feel Supported by Family and Friends
View story at Medium.com

When you take risks, follow dreams, embark on new ventures, or do anything else that challenges you to become a better version of yourself, you force the people around you to change even if they weren’t ready, willing, or planning to change. In this post, I share my thoughts on coping with the challenge of having friends and family members who express doubt or discomfort about your dreams.

Be Better Than the Good Opinion of Others
View story at Medium.com

One of the most common causes of mediocrity is the sense of comfort and contentment we feel when others express satisfaction with our work. While elements such as a happy client, a pleased customer, a proud parent, an impressed mentor, or a thrilled audience may be useful for gauging progress in certain contexts, it doesn’t tell the whole story. Being exceptional at doing what the world demands of you (assuming you’ve agreed to those demands) is only half of what it takes to be great. The other half is what you demand of yourself.

Meaningful Work is Worth the Work
View story at Medium.com

If there is any tragedy involved in working at all, it lies in the fact that many of us have never been taught how to develop innovative and inspiring approaches to work. Because we work by default, showing up to our jobs merely because that’s what we think we have to do in order to avoid becoming homeless, we’ve lost sight of the pleasure and power experienced by those who’ve learned to design their professional lifestyle with what Napoleon Hill calls “definiteness of purpose.” People who possess this understanding of work are far from being dull because they’ve mastered the art of turning their work into play and their play into work.

The Limits of Self-Help, The Power of Systems, & Why We Need Rules to Succeed
View story at Medium.com

One of the commonly cited problems with a great deal of self-help philosophy is the overemphasis on positive thinking, affirmations, visualization techniques, and other motivational tools that produce short-term inspiration but that often fail to help people create lasting changes.

Reflections on The Pursuit of Happiness & The Meaning of Life: An Interview w/ Carren Smith

Go on, admit it, you’ve asked “What is the point of it all?” at least once in your life!! And…. What did you come up with? Did you find the answer? Even just a glimpse? Well, on this week’s show, I decided to put the question to our favourite philosopher, T.K Coleman!!! The last time we had T.K on the show our ratings sky rocketed and the questions came thick and fast, so getting T.K back was a ‘no brainer’!! Get ready to listen to the magic this man has to share about happiness, dancing, emotional versatility and following your dreams!! 

Symptom of a Critical Thinker

You are probably a critical thinker if you’re just as disapproving of bad arguments made for your position as you are of bad arguments made against your position.

You are probably not a critical thinker if you are outraged at poor logic, unfair reasoning, and discriminatory thinking only when it’s employed by advocates of the positions you oppose.

You Can’t Build a Business Without Doing Philosophy

Entrepreneurship is inherently philosophical. You can’t consistently succeed in the world of business without being rigorously committed to questioning reality and subjecting your creative ideas to empirical investigation. The entrepreneur must constantly ask himself or herself questions like “is there another way?” or “what assumptions am I making?” And when it’s time to look for answers, the entrepreneur is not afforded the luxury of hiding away in an ivory tower. Entrepreneurs must find their answers by engaging the world, by throwing their ideas against the solid wall of reality to see what truly sticks. 

What Really Concerns Me

I’m not worried about the irrational and insincere people who are determined to do wrong because of their hatred for truth, justice, and freedom.

I’m worried about all the rational and sincere people who don’t know what their rights are.

I’m worried about all the hard-working and open-minded people who haven’t been given compelling reasons for believing in their power, their potential, and their possibilities.

I’m terrified by the thought of those who, because they have not been taught how to think critically and creatively, do not know how to protect themselves from manipulation, exploitation, and oppression.

I’m worried about the people who long to be dreamers, creators, and revolutionaries, but who lack the support of mentors, allies, and communities that nurture self-knowledge, mental toughness, and spiritual well-being.

I’m worried about the innocent ones, the curious ones, and the compassionate ones who hold the keys to creating a freer world, but who lack the protection of systems and structures that can shelter them from violence.

There will be no place in this world for the wicked if we devote ourselves to equipping the people of integrity with the tools they need to defend and express their human dignity. I am not interested in screaming and yelling at those who have proven themselves to be too self-absorbed to hear the cries of the suffering. I am interested in using whatever powers I have to help build a better world and inspire others to do the same. I have little time for bemoaning the irrational and insincere. I’m too busy trying to liberate the hearts and minds of those who love the truth and are willing to follow it wherever it leads.

In cases where we must, let us defend ourselves against the forces of evil. But let us not forget that the war for freedom is only won to the degree that we invest knowledge and power into the forces of good. When the lovers of truth know what they’re capable of and choose to act on that knowledge, the lovers of evil will no longer prevail.

Broadening My Horizons

Today I choose to negotiate my sense of the possible.

I choose to open my heart and mind to new ideas, new sensations, and new influences.

Without despising what is familiar and conventional, I choose to seek out the treasures and pleasures of novelty.

I choose to recognize that being realistic is not the same as refusing to exit my comfort zones. By challenging myself to dream bigger dreams, I am taking a realistic approach to living a creative life.

As I embrace the unknown, I not only discover hidden forms of beauty, but I make the forms of beauty that were already known useful to me in new ways.