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Something for Nothing: The Attitude That Has Turned the American Dream into a Social and Political Nightmare

Something for Nothing: The Attitude That Has Turned the American Dream into a Social and Political Nightmare

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by Brian Tracy

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America's greatness comes from people working hard to fulfill their dreams. But today that greatness is being undermined by people using the government to steal other people's dreams (and money). Rather than participate and innovate in the marketplace, generating goods and services that benefit society, people are increasingly vying for political advantage to live


America's greatness comes from people working hard to fulfill their dreams. But today that greatness is being undermined by people using the government to steal other people's dreams (and money). Rather than participate and innovate in the marketplace, generating goods and services that benefit society, people are increasingly vying for political advantage to live at the expense of others. Something for Nothing reveals the social and personal threats inherent in this emerging "grabbing match" culture, juxtaposing free-market virtues against government vices, explaining how the something-for-nothing mentality corrupts the political system, undermines corporate success, and stifles the individual's ability to prosper and contribute long-term to society. More than exposing the dangers, however, Tracy helps readers set a personal and culture-wide agenda for change.

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Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
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5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)

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The All-Consuming Desire That Turns the American Dream into a Social Nightmare


Copyright © 2007 Brian Tracy
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59555-038-5

Chapter One

Why We Do the Things We Do

"Practice the Reality Principle; deal with the world as it is, not as you wish it would be." -Jack Welch

Human beings are amazing! We have the ability to think, feel, reason, decide, change our minds, and accomplish extraordinary things. Unique among all creatures on earth, individuals have the ability to determine the course and direction of our own destinies and to change our futures. We can continually write and rewrite the scripts of our own lives. For us, all things are possible.

Your amazing brain has ten billion neurons, each of which is connected to as many as 20,000 others. This means the total number of mental connections, or thoughts you can think is ten million to the twenty thousandth power, a number greater than all the molecules in the known universe.

You have the ability to process enormous amounts of information, learn huge quantities of facts and data, and apply your mind to achieving health, happiness, harmony, prosperity, and a wonderful life for yourself and your family.

No Limits on Your Potential

Your true potential is only limited by your imagination and by your willingness and ability to be, do, and have all the things you can imagine for yourself. And since there are no limitations on what you can imagine, there are no limitations on what you can do with your life except those you impose on yourself.

You have the ability to set goals, make plans, learn almost any subject you need to learn, manage your time, communicate and negotiate with others, overcome obstacles, and win your own personal victories.

If you live in the United States, you are surrounded by unlimited opportunities, protected by the best legal system in the world, and guaranteed personal liberty and individual rights. You are living in the most affluent time in all of human history and in the richest and most powerful country of all time.

What Holds You Back

With all these advantages and blessings available to you and to others, why is it that so few people realize their full potential? Why is it that so many people, by their own admissions, are "leading lives of quiet desperation?"

Almost everything you are or ever will be can be traced back to human nature and the elements of human nature that predominate in the things you think, say, and do. Human nature can be a blessing or a curse, depending upon what parts of it you embrace and encourage and what parts of it you downplay and disregard.

There is both a "bright side" and a "dark side" of your nature, an angel and a devil. These two forces compete continually in your mind and heart for control of your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Fortunately, these elements are not fixed, but flexible.

You are always free to choose. The only thing in the world over which you have complete control is your thinking. Only you can choose and decide what thoughts to think and dwell upon. Your entire life today, in every respect, is the sum total of the choices and decisions you have made up until now. Since only you can make the choices and decisions affecting your life, you are completely responsible for everything you are and everything you become.

There are many characteristics and qualities that comprise what we call "human nature." These are fundamental, inborn, hard-wired, unchanging instincts possessed by all human beings going back into at least 6000 years of recorded history. The starting point of creating an unlimited future for yourself is for you to understand who you are and how you got to where you are today. Once you know these factors, you can move forward with greater confidence to create the future you desire.

An Economics Lesson

Sometimes I will start a business or sales seminar by conducting a brief quiz. I ask the audience if they would like to learn four years of university economics in four minutes. Almost everyone smiles, nods, and agrees.

I then begin by asking a series of questions. The first is, "If I could offer you a choice of jobs, both of which pay the same, but one is easy and the other is difficult, which one would you choose?"

When I ask for a show of hands, everyone raises their hand and chooses the easy job over the hard job.

"That's a good choice," I say. "It is normal and natural for you to choose an easier job over a harder job. In fact, it is almost impossible for a normal person to choose a harder way to accomplish a result when an easier way is available."

Life Is Precious

The most precious of all human commodities is life itself. Life is made up of the minutes, hours, and days of your existence. Life also consists of the amount of energy that you have to expend.

Because you think "economically" as all people do, you naturally strive to conserve the amount of time and energy you need to give in exchange for any element of your life.

The more time and energy you save in accomplishing one task, the more time and energy you have available to accomplish other tasks and achieve other goals. In other words, by choosing the easier route, you actually increase the amount of life that you have available for other things.

The result of this instinctive way of acting is that you are lazy. Everyone is lazy. It is a normal, natural human instinct. It is both healthy and helpful. It is the way you conserve energy.

Laziness in itself is neither good nor bad. It is only in the way that laziness is demonstrated that causes it to be defined as positive or negative.

The Bright Side

If laziness is demonstrated by finding faster, better, cheaper, easier ways to accomplish tasks and achieve goals, which is the motive force behind all advancement in human civilization, then laziness is a good thing. It is beneficial. It is helpful.

Laziness is the force that has driven all improvements in technology, manufacturing, production, agriculture, transportation, medicine, education, and every other field of human advancement. The natural tendency toward laziness, and toward reducing the amount of time and effort needed to accomplish a result, is a major contributor to the quality of life that is possible for you in the twenty-first century.

The Dark Side

However, laziness also has a "dark side." If people's natural laziness causes them to slack off, cut corners, avoid work, fail to complete tasks, waste time, start later and leave earlier, and generally contribute less to their jobs and families, then laziness is bad. Laziness is bad in this sense because it robs the potential of the individual who practices it. It diminishes his possibilities in the present and undermines his hopes for the future. Laziness expressed in a negative way will usually ruin a person's prospects for success and advancement.

But laziness, in and of itself, is neutral. It is neither good nor bad. It is only in the way that laziness is expressed that allows one to make a positive or negative judgment about it.

What Everyone Wants

The economics lesson continues. I then go on and ask the next question. "Imagine that I could offer you two different salaries for performing the same job, $10,000 per year or $100,000 per year. Which one would you choose?"

By a show of hands, everyone chooses the higher amount over the lower amount. Even if the difference was between a job paying $95,000 per year and $100,000 per year, if it were the same job, everyone would choose the higher amount.

Again, this is normal and natural. It is mentally impossible for a person to choose less when he could have more, all things considered. The desire for "more" is instinctive and hard-wired into the human brain. Even infants and children, in every culture, when given the choice between more or less, for example in the case of candy or dessert, will always choose more. No education or training is necessary.

I then go onto explain, "What this means is that everyone here is basically greedy. Every normal person prefers more to less throughout their lives, in virtually every situation."

How Do You Express Yourself?

Just as with laziness, greed is neither good nor bad. It is only in the way a person manifests their natural, instinctive greed that makes the action or behavior positive or negative.

The desire for more was the motivating force behind the work of Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her Missionaries of Charity. They constantly wanted to help more people.

Doctor Albert Schweitzer of Africa was greedy in the same way. Throughout his life, he constantly sought more resources so he could help even more African natives as a medical missionary.

If a person who wants more of the good things in life for himself and his family works longer hours, continually upgrades his skills, and continually offers to serve his customers with more of the things they want, this "greed" is positive and healthy. It leads to success, achievement, esteem, and respect in the community. It enables the individual and his family to enjoy a higher standard of living and a more exciting future. In this case, greed is good.

The Dark Side of Greed

The dark side of greed is what most people are familiar with. When people strive to get rewards without working, riches without contribution, recognition without achievement, or power without service, they are manifesting the dark side of greed. Whenever someone attempts to get something for nothing, in any area, they are manifesting the kind of greed that is harmful to the victim, and ultimately destructive to the practitioner.

When the entrepreneurial and creative energies of people motivated by greed are directed and channeled into productive activities, greed becomes a powerful and positive social good. It drives people to innovate and create newer, better, faster, and cheaper ways to provide products and services for others.

Greed Is Neutral

Many politicians, demagogues, religious leaders, and well-meaning do-gooders are completely ignorant of the natural, normal, instinctive nature of greed. They attack those who strive to get more, especially business people who strive for more sales, more growth, and more profits, as inherently evil. By demonizing the normal and natural activities of people in business, they strive to create support for taxes to take away the money these people have earned and give it to others who have done nothing to earn these amounts.

Whenever someone accuses someone else of being "greedy," you can be sure of one thing: The person using the word in attacking another is either ignorant, dishonest, both, or greedy himself. Accusing someone of greed is the first step toward using the law to expropriate that person's money and usually with the intent to use that money in the best interest of the person advocating the theft.

Improvement Is the Goal

We continue with the economics lesson. "If I could offer you a job where you would have wonderful opportunities for growth and advancement or I could offer you a dead-end job with limited opportunities or job security, which would you choose?"

Again, everyone chooses the job with opportunities for promotion and advancement. Once again, this is normal and natural. All human action is aimed at an improvement in conditions of some kind. Everyone prefers to be better off rather than worse off. Everyone hopes for a better future rather than a worse future.

You always have a choice. You can either act or not act. You can either do something or do nothing. The only reason you will take action is because you anticipate being better off as a result. This is the foundation principle that explains virtually all human and economic activity.

Choices and Decisions

If you are confronted with a choice of two actions, you will always choose the action that you feel will leave you better off than the other. Whether or not you are correct in your choice, you will always choose more improvement over less improvement. But you will only act if you expect to improve your situation in some way.

What this means is everyone is ambitious. Everyone wants to be better off. Everyone wants to improve his or her situation. It is only in the way ambition is manifested that makes it either positive or negative.

If your ambition drives you to become a better person, do a better job, work harder, stay later, and contribute more, then ambition is a good thing. It serves your life. It guarantees your present and opens doors to your future. The more ambitious you are in a positive and constructive way, the more you will accomplish for yourself and your family. The more ambitious you are, the better life you can create for yourself. All successful people are ambitious.

In the past 25 years, I have given more than 3000 talks and seminars, and spoken to almost three million people in 25 countries. In questionnaires and surveys, I have sought for the common denominator of people who seek to improve themselves throughout their lives.

I finally concluded there is only one word to describe successful people: hungry. Successful people are hungry. They have an intense desire to be more, do more, and have more than they have ever had before. They want to improve their lives and they recognize that, "your life only gets better when you get better." They are ambitious, in a healthy, helpful way.

The Dark Side of Ambition

On the other hand, if a person's ambition leads him to engage in behaviors that are harmful to others by lying, cheating, deceiving, defrauding, or taking advantage of people, this form of ambition is negative and destructive.

There are two ways people manifest ambition in our society. The first is by serving and helping other people. The second is by using and abusing people for short-term personal benefit. The first is a positive manifestation of ambition, and the second is a negative manifestation. But ambition itself is a neutral word. It is neither good nor bad in itself.

Time is of the Essence

The fourth question I ask to round off this economics lesson is, "Now that you have chosen the easier job paying $100,000 per year, with opportunities for growth and advancement, if I could give you that amount in full on January 1 of the year, or December 31 of the year, which date would you choose?"

Again, everyone would choose to have the money on January 1 rather than December 31. This is normal and natural as well. Human beings prefer earlier to later in the satisfaction of any need or desire. One of the many reasons for this is obvious. It is the old saying, "Better a bird in the hand than two in the bush." The earlier you receive it, the less risk there is that you will not get it at all. Not only that, but you will be able to spend it sooner.

In almost every case, people prefer earlier to later. People do not like or want to wait. They want what they want right now. We say, in our fast-moving society, instant gratification is no longer fast enough. People who did not know they wanted something until this minute now want it immediately, if not sooner.

In other words, everyone is impatient. Everyone is in a hurry. Look at how insistent children are in demanding that they be given what they want immediately. And adults are just children with better excuses.

No Value Judgment Attached

The quality of impatience is neither good nor bad. It is simply a hard-wired category of human nature. If the desire to get things quickly motivates a person to create innovative products and services that satisfy customers faster, impatience is a good thing.

If people work harder and faster to accomplish the same result, so they can get more of the things they want, impatience is beneficial and advantageous.

On the other hand, the dark side of impatience is when people cut corners, compromise quality, and step over or upon other people to get the things they want faster than they are entitled to. When a person's impatience for rewards drives him to engage in illegal or harmful behaviors that hurt himself or others, then impatience is a negative manifestation of human nature.

Impatience can be good. The driving force of technological advancement for hundreds of years has been the desire to produce products and services, achieve goals, and get results faster than before. The primary advantage one technology has over another today is that the user can get a result faster with it than he could with a competing technology.


Excerpted from SOMETHING for NOTHING by BRIAN TRACY Copyright © 2007 by Brian Tracy. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Brian Tracy is Chairman and CEO of Brian Tracy International, a company specializing in the training and development of organizations and individuals. Tracy has studied, researched, written, and spoken for 30 years in the fields of economics, history, and business. He has authored more than 45 books.

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Something for Nothing: The Attitude That Has Turned the American Dream into a Social and Political Nightmare 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is as easy to read as I'm sure it was easy to write. Mr. Tracy makes sweeping statements based on nothing whatever but his own not-so-humble opinions. 'Something for Nothing' bashes (perhaps justly) the greed and envy inherent in programs and people advocating Affirmative Action, Teacher's Unions, UN officials, Welfare and Social Security receipients, criminals, gamblers, lawyers, and illegal immigrants, etc. But he says practically nothing about the greed and envy employed by corporate executives, big industry, credit card companies, insurance companies, banks, etc. If his premise that everyone is motivated by expediency to pursue and indulge their natural instincts of being lazy, greedy, ambitious, selfish, vain, ignorant, and impatient, then don't those 'instincts' apply equally to private-sector entrepreneurs and CEOs in the same way it does for government-sector bureaucracies? Aren't entrepreneurs who offer get-rich-quick schemes and people who write say-nothing books like this one selling for $24.99 seeking 'something for nothing' just as much other enemies of free enterprise. The Introduction promises that this book will open your mind and heart to fully understand the world we live in. But, being neither an accurate description of the world, nor providing an adequate solution to the world's problems, it simply doesn't live up to the hype.