One of my favorite musicians is Mark Knopfler. If a little lightning bug could use its luminescent, pulsing juice to spray neon graffiti into the night sky, that would be a good representation of what Mark Knopfler's electric guitar sounds like to me. And if that same little lightning bug could inscribe words of narration underneath its art, like captions in a comic strip, that would be a good metaphor to reflect how Knopfler tells stories with his lyrics.
In his song Boom, Like That, he tells the story of Ray Kroc, the businessman who acquired McDonald's and turned that single restaurant into the touchstone fast food chain that now exists in 119 countries around the world. This weekend, I saw the film The Founder, in which Michael Keaton brilliantly portrays Kroc in the early stages of his rise to power. Not surprisingly, Keaton's performance is so compelling and convincing that my bandwidth of emotion and empathy was wide open for the duration of the movie. The supporting actors and actresses also nail their respective roles.
In the beginning of the movie, Kroc is listening to a motivational record that harps upon the paramount importance of persistence. Not talent, not genius, but persistence—that is the key to success, according to a commanding voice on the electric phonograph. (Incidentally, the fictional voice on the record directly quotes lines from “The Power of Positive Thinking” by Norman Vincent Peale, who presided as a reverend at one of Donald Trump's weddings). Back to the movie.
Kroc is desperate to succeed and drives across the country selling milkshake mixers to drive-in restaurants, until he finally stumbles upon McDonald's in San Bernardino, California, where he persuades the two brothers who own the joint to partner with him in a business venture to expand and franchise their innovation of fast food. Despite some trepidation, the McDonald brothers climb on board, and thus begins the building of the McDonald's Corporation, in which the founding brothers are eventually bought out by Kroc, and ultimately denied their 0.5% annual royalties previously promised by Kroc in a handshake clause within the deal.
Without getting too much deeper into the details of the biopic, let me just say that this story provided me with some excellent fodder for self-inquiry and contemplation, especially in regards to bhakti and the pursuit of a chosen ideal. What is Kroc but a product of his own chosen ideal—a man shaped by the forces that mechanically aligned him with his personal vision and dream? Each of us constructs a hierarchy of desires within our heart space, and it's probably accurate to say that Kroc placed financial profit at the apex of his pyramid. And he employed a fiercely competitive spirit to achieve his goals. As the real Ray Kroc once said: “If any of my competitors were drowning, I’d stick a hose in their mouth and turn on the water.”
Now that I've undoubtedly stirred up some feelings about Kroc, with that last quote being the cherry on top, it's time to bring this show full circle.
Yogani once wrote: "This process of awakening does not remove the natural functions of competition and self-defense. It elevates them to a higher plane by reducing the darkness on all sides."
Clearly, there are different flavors of competition, aren't there?
I would like to provide my own opinion as to what competition looks like on a higher plane, where the darkness is reduced on all sides. First, let me admit that competitiveness has been a prevalent theme throughout my life, in the realms of athletics, academics, social image, and even spirituality, so it's a gooey issue to delve into.
On the note of athletics, the rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal is easily regarded as the greatest ongoing battle in the history of tennis. Yet, these champions are close friends—believe it or not. In October, Federer joined Nadal in Spain to inaugurate Nadal's tennis academy for youngsters. And at the Australian Open this year, Nadal and Federer ended up meeting in the finals for an epic match that ended with Federer being victorious. At the awards ceremony, Federer said this: "Tennis is a tough sport, and we don't have draws, but if I could have shared it today with Rafa, I would have taken a draw. Keep playing Rafa, please. Tennis needs you. Thank you for everything you do."
Obviously, that's a far cry from sticking a hose in the mouth of a drowning man. Even though I regard Nadal and Federer as higher plane competitors, I'm not interested in condemning Kroc as a villain, per se. In fact, Ray Kroc's wife Joan donated a staggering $1.6 billion to Salvation Army, and $225 million to National Public Radio (NPR). That's some higher plane philanthropy right there.
It's easy to target profiteering capitalists as enemies to the common good. I'm seeing it constantly on Facebook in regards to the new President, and I understand the protests. But to me, what is both more challenging and rewarding is to redirect the anger and discontent toward one's higher ideal. You won't see me bashing Trump on Facebook, but you will see me getting pumped up about AYP. In the same sense, just because I'm sober and found a superior means of inducing ecstatic bliss, doesn't mean I'm on an anti-alcohol tirade.
Trying to leverage a lot of energy against a perceived obstruction is not nearly as effective as leveraging the same energy towards a higher ideal. Ironically, the anti- approach often feeds the opposition even more. So if you're angry about money being on top of other people's ideological pyramid, or about the misuse of natural resources, or about any injustice whatsoever, then amplify and feed your own chosen ideal, and be the change you want to see.
Or not. I'm not anti- the anti-movement. It's your trip. ;-)
Whatever the case, we can learn a lesson from Ray Kroc's persistence. Persistence pays off. What do you want to be persistent about?...that's the question.
I'll be sticking to my AYP guns and waving the banner of ecstatic bliss, bolstered by daily practices and devotion to that higher plane of competition. Kroc-style. Boom, like that.
The higher power is in us.