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Millions of viewers of Tony Brown's Journal, the longest-running series on PBS, know Tony Brown as an advocate for self-reliance and self-enrichment. Now, in his most personal book yet, he introduces us to the woman who brought him up and taught him the seven core values he lives by to this day: reality, knowledge, race, history, truth, patience, and love. What Mama Taught Me states that only by understanding one's place in the world can one become free in mind and spirit, which is the path to true success. Brown...
Millions of viewers of Tony Brown's Journal, the longest-running series on PBS, know Tony Brown as an advocate for self-reliance and self-enrichment. Now, in his most personal book yet, he introduces us to the woman who brought him up and taught him the seven core values he lives by to this day: reality, knowledge, race, history, truth, patience, and love. What Mama Taught Me states that only by understanding one's place in the world can one become free in mind and spirit, which is the path to true success. Brown argues that by following other people's rules, we betray ourselves and our desires, resulting in a vicious cycle of disconnection, unhappiness, and spiritual death.
Enhanced by the homespun storytelling he heard as a child, this is Brown's personal recipe for achievement, imparting values that provide a blueprint for reaching success and happiness -- on one's own terms.
What Mama Taught Me
Chapter OneRealityThe Value of Being Yourself
Mr. Carpenter was the principal of Washington Elementary, my elementary school in Charleston, West Virginia. He was a big, tall, distinguished, good-looking man, always in three-piece suits, with his gold watch tucked neatly away in one vest pocket, anchoring his Phi Beta Kappa key, which dangled in full view. Whenever you got caught doing anything wrong, the classroom teacher would send you to Mr. Carpenter, and he would put you across his lap and give you a few licks with a barber's strap. Now, I have to admit that I was in Mr. Carpenter's office often enough that I'd gotten pretty familiar with it. And although my mind was usually on the punishment I was about to receive, I always read a quotation from Abraham Lincoln that Mr. Carpenter had tacked on his office wall. The neatly printed card said: "Whatever you are, be a good one."
Something about those words stuck with me. I really wanted to understand them. And one day, after I had given Mama a note from Mr. Carpenter about my latest visit to his office (which was a cue to follow up with a more thorough whipping), I asked her what the saying meant. Her face went from stern and disapproving to quiet and wistful. She sat looking at me for a few moments and then said: "Sonny Boy, I think Mr. Lincoln meant that the best thing any of us can do is be good at who we are, instead of trying to be someone we are not. You are Anthony, right? If you tried to be Jackson or Rufus you wouldn't be much good at it, because that isn't who you are. But if you work at being Anthony, well, I guarantee you, you'll be a greatAnthony."
I did not know it at the time, but what Mama had explained to me was the core value of reality. You see, we are taught to believe that reality is the objective world of facts, figures, and rules, and that our job is to learn how to fit into that world. But that is the Establishment version of reality — the version designed to perpetuate the status quo by producing complacent workers, consumers, and citizens. The Establishment promises health, wealth, and happiness as rewards for conformity. But it is an empty promise, because true health, wealth, and happiness come only from accepting and being yourself.
Let me tell you a story to illustrate what I mean. I spoke in San Francisco not too long ago. The audience was mostly working-class Black people. This was the first time that the majority of them had ever been to a big fancy hotel. They all looked really good in their new dresses and suits, all two thousand of them in the big ballroom — a sea of beautiful people.
I noticed this one man going from table to table. Everyone kept calling him over to their table. He was by far the most popular person in the room. I asked my host who the man was. "That's Scotty," the reverend replied. "What's he doing?" I asked. "Scotty brought the hot sauce," he said, smiling.
Somehow this crowd knew that the food "wasn't going to be right." So Scotty brought the hot sauce. And everybody had a wonderful time. They were themselves. You know how good it feels when you are just you? I wish I could have bottled up the feeling in that room to take it all over the world. These people really understood what William Shakespeare meant when he wrote:
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
We are beautiful when we are ourselves. We get rid of all that baggage we are carrying around. Who is pretty? Who is ugly? Who is White? Who is Black? Who is rich? Who is poor? Who went to school, and who did not? When it is just you and me, that is when we connect with true reality.
The way to be happy is to figure out who you are and then accept yourself. We all carry our own hot sauce, whether we are aware of it or not. So the question is: What is the special ingredient you bring to the party? Once you know what it is, not only do you get to enjoy it yourself but you can also share it with others. And you know that if you bring the hot sauce, everyone is going to want you at their table. You take care of people, and they will take care of you. Everything that you do in life, if it is good, will come back to you in the form of true health, wealth, and happiness.
Reality is a powerful force. It frees your mind and your spirit from the dead weight of the "shoulds" — the pressure to conform to external concepts of your essence and your worth. You do not need to measure yourself with someone else's yardstick. All that tells you is whether you are living up to someone else's expectations. And that will never make you truly happy. What makes us happy is to be in harmony with ourselves, to live up to our inner self's, perhaps the soul's, expectations. That is being truly alive.
This may not be easy for most people to take in. We are often inclined to believe that the things we need to be happy are outside of ourselves. So when I suggest to people that the seeds of health, wealth, and happiness are within them, they often tend to be skeptical. A woman who approached me after one of my lectures not too long ago is a good example ...What Mama Taught Me. Copyright (c) by Tony Brown . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.