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A true intellectual and staunch advocate for living life in the upper chambers, Ron Hickey asked 12 Americans who have had the most influence over his life to open up and share the most remarkable human experiences of their lives: “How can we share our most remarkable life experiences in such a manner that we allow others to draw deep insight and find powerful inspiration that transmits to posterity, acknowledging that we’re living in very transient times in which there is much difficulty in the basic ability to tell the truth about ourselves?”

A true portrait of the quintessential nature of the human spirit, 12 Insights is a courageous collection of the personal accounts of the life experiences of 12 phenomenal men and women who offer critical understandings of their examined lives.

Our struggles, our pains, our not-so-favorable life experiences; are not necessarily harmful or negative things. Struggle is the birth-place of great power, great beauty, and great human feats. Our levels of glory, grace, and dignity are abased in the quality of the experience. 12 Insights is an example and a witness to this truth.

12 Insights is a pragmatic integration of every day human endeavor and higher spiritual instincts and intellect. Ron Hickey displays an exceptional level of sagacity in fleshing out and literarily expressing deep knowledge, vast wisdom, and raw truths in his artistic expansion of the 12 extraordinary human anecdotes. 12 Insights offers critical analyses of extreme realities and fills the soul with new understandings and tacit knowledge.

The quality of our lives is immersed in our willingness to openly share our experiences for the collective good. Nine out of the ten parts of mankind tend to drudge through life in this noise filled universe. One is hard pressed to hear her own cries, much less the cries of others. We find peace in the most improbable of places and console ourselves with the courage and unadulterated laughter of our children. What manner of people are we that we still find the ability to dream, be inspired, and transcend our narratives? There is much hope for Americans, for at the end of our imperfections, at the limits of our knowledge, in the margins of our existence; we harbor an amazing ability to come together when the struggle calls for it. 12 Insights is an amazing coming together, because the struggle calls for it.

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The Formation of the Ethical Subject

“The task of testing oneself, examining oneself, monitoring oneself in a series of clearly defined exercises, makes the question of truth; the truth concerning what one is, what one does, and what one is capable of doing; central to the formation of the ethical subject.”

                                                                                                —Michel Foucault

In my life I have had the privilege of engaging the magnificent human spirits of many phenomenal men and women; but I don’t pretend to know anyone that is famous to the world, because I don’t. My friends and family are famous only to me, and I am famous only to them. We do not live privileged lives, by no stretch of the imagination, but nevertheless, we do live great lives. We are blessed beyond fortune and fame; for we live highly valued lives which we have self-determined to be worth living. We self-test ourselves, self-examine ourselves, and self-monitor ourselves in a series of clearly defined exercises; and in such critical processes, we have made the questions about knowledge, wisdom, and truth central to the formation of the ethical subject. We question the knowledge concerning what we are; we question the wisdom that guides our actions; and we question the truth that defines our capabilities. We are enamored with insight, not because of some birthright, but because we have exercised the courage to test, examine, and monitor ourselves so that we might become better spirits; better husbands and wives; better sons and daughters; better friends and colleagues; better neighbors and community voices; better leaders and advocates; just better. In this book, 12 Insights, I commissioned the most talented human spirits whom are famous to me to share the deepest insights from their personal life examinations. Of the collection of insights delivered, I selected twelve critical understandings of the examined lives of twelve exceptional subjects to include in this volume. The twelve literary assertions that have been compiled in this book are meant to afford a glimpse, of sort, not a wholly definition, into the biographical sketches of the twelve dynamic talents who participated. From each literary sketch, a transformative and brilliantly illuminating life insight emerges. Anecdotes, personal accounts, and powerful discernments, often times extremely painful, humanize the circumstances under consideration and flesh out the knowledge, wisdom, and truth embodied in each brilliant expression of life. This work is a presentation of 12 Americans who have refused to be victims of circumstance, but much more than that, they are offered collectively as social engineers set on reforming how America thinks about the world we live in. If received in the same spirit in which given, 12 insights will direct your sight inward; and that is the very direction from which all greatness flows and the ethical subject is formed. 

Each person possesses the human will, albeit not equally, to gain better understanding of this life; and in most circumstances seeks to increase the condition and position of status. One can work hard in daily living with the abilities, talents, and skills he or she has mined from within; and, guided by passion and commitment, be superbly rewarded for such efforts. There are varying degrees of rewards; quality of childhood upbringing, educational achievement, financial wealth, emotional health, and achievement of excellence. The initial nature of our situations and conditions do not guarantee any particular assignment. What defines life’s trajectory is one’s level of embrace to a series of clearly defined exams designed to draw out the truth concerning oneself. Truth has the uncanny ability to deliver one, despite who one is and what one’s situation may be, to some very interesting destinations in life. One may be undereducated, but one’s life is not limited simply due to the lack of education. High school and college dropouts have become Millionaires and Billionaires. One may have been born into meager means, but one’s life is not defined simply by the starting point in life; but rather in terms relative to one’s position to the finish line. Our race, culture, skin color, or zip-code alone does not force limits or guarantee outcomes; nor does fame or the lack of fame change the truth about who we are, what we are here to do, and what we are capable of. Great spirits, irrespective of initial positioning, have to commit to achieving the best life possible, and that commitment begins and ends with testing oneself, examining oneself, and monitoring oneself. Our lives are imitations of the integrating examples and witnesses of such examining and monitoring as centralizing images of what we are capable of becoming. The 12 Insights expressed in this artistic work of literature are examples and witnesses that can become central to one’s life as one strives for the best life possible, bringing into fruition the full knowledge of self and the very things the ethical character is capable of.

Love, faith, trust, spiritual atonement, and understanding all have limits; for the volume, volition, and value of virtues are balanced by the human spirit and the understanding of one’s purpose in life. Who our biological parents are poses no limits or obstacles for God. We place limits on ourselves. Regardless of our situations, every person must decide how he or she will live and acknowledge that we can bring our desires and our visions into fruition based upon our commitment to life. Every individual must decide his or her level of commitment to bringing into this human experience the very things that provide for living a good and righteous life. However one defines a good life, that definition should be void of any allowance for sacrificing the betterment of another, in exchange for personal comforts and conveniences. One’s good life should not result in a bad life for any other person. Our lives are so intertwined that no one person is an island, and no one family constitutes the entire village. Our actions greatly affect our surroundings; and that is the very reason everyone must commit to the world if we intend to make this earth a better place. This book is my commitment, and that commitment began with a simple question: “How can we share our most catastrophic and remarkable life experiences in such a manner that we allow others to draw deep insight and find powerful inspiration that transmits to posterity, acknowledging that we’re living in very transient times in which there is much difficulty in the basic ability to tell the truth about ourselves?” Many of my personal friends, family members, and professional colleagues were courageous enough answer this simple question and offer a narrative of a remarkable experience in their life. I selected 12 of what I considered to be the most remarkable of the more than 100 anecdotes that I received. The 12 Insights that follow are my artistic expansions of the 12 narratives into powerful and inspirational life lessons, critical understandings, and gateways to wisdom; literarily expressed.

The 12 Insights begin with a gentle but very emotional reminder that the Human Soul Can Heal Itself; as an Asian-American mom courageously shares her personal and painful experience with her beautiful, brilliant, and brave nine year old daughter being diagnosed with a terminal illness. Her life and the life of her family constrict and she loses hope and questions her faith in God and her connection with humanity; while angered with life itself. We learn from this powerful insight that the human soul is capable of healing itself, and inspiration is the life blood for living a healthy, more upright, firm, and just existence.

The 2nd Insight, Spirit of Discernment, tells a supernatural tale that is being told publicly for the very first time. The story connects an amazing and unbelievable event that happened to two little adolescent and innocent boys living in the countryside of Southern Tennessee more than 40 years ago to the Robert Frost poem, Directive, and drives the reader’s mind inward to the reader’s own secret childhood hiding place. We discover the reason why we experience phenomenal events in our childhood and what those events are meant to represent in our adulthood. We walk away from this insight appreciating life like never before and understanding clearly the value of the secrets we have kept hidden away from everyone else for such a long time.

In While I Was Dreaming, the 3rd Insight, a wonderful and beautiful woman approaching middle-age reconnects with the only man she has ever truly loved. She was barely an adult when she first met the love of her life, before he broke her heart and moved away. Both are married now to someone else, but nevertheless the narrative takes us on a journey inside a dream and a hope for a life that is not to be. While the reunion, 25 years in the making, produces some sparks and excitement; and even a brief thought that she would finally be able to live happily ever after with her only true love, reality and destiny gets the final word. And that’s the insight in this amazing story about love, life, and the path this is ultimately chosen for us; the fact that every human makes their own plan of their destiny in the world; “but while we are dreaming, our true destiny leads us on in an entirely different way. The part we really get seldom looks like the one we expected, and we find our hopes dashed with every step we take…until death, which always seemed far away, suddenly ends the entire game.”

The 4th Insight is the final chapter of the first of three parts of the book; Knowledge, Wisdom, and Truth, respectively, being the three parts. The Golden Calculator Error bluntly asserts that when choosing life-long partners, many of us choose wrong. We miscalculate and end up married to the wrong person. And when we find ourselves in a long-term relationship, how should we respond to our Golden Calculator Error? The insight reads in part…Ann was married, and her marriage did not work out as she had hoped and dreamed. She married young, and she married the wrong person. While I fully understand how Ann arrived at the very painful place she’s in, concerning adult male-female relationships, I don’t agree with her position. Ann made a golden calculator error and chose wrong. Her wrong choice, miscalculation, caused her such a degree of depression and pain that it has led her to believe that life-long marriage partnerships are not just pointless, but impossible. I believe great relationships with other humans are very possible. We just have to first stop believing that love is supposed to be painless. We must understand that the excitement experienced during the dating period is not to be mistaken for love that has gone through the fire, traversed the challenges of children, or withstood the test of time. Love is designed to look different on the other side. The 4th Insight examines the other side of love; the side that far too often goes without consideration when we are making the decision concerning the partner we will walk the path of life with.

The 5th Insight is the first insight of Part Two of the book, Wisdom. Measures of a Complete Life examines how we tend to measure success in life. The narratives of this insight inventories man’s varied desires to possess meaningless material things and the propensity to value life by measuring the invaluable possessions we collect along the way. Men and women are controlled by insatiable “want” to the point of unhappiness, despite having plenty. This insight encourages living a complete life, not one simply motivated by material want. Measures of a Complete Life states; economy, the accumulation and management of financial wealth; not life, love and happiness, is the primary objective of human striving and measuring, in relations to a successful life. Everyone has an overwhelming and overreaching desire to possess strong economic means. Man, while his want is insatiable, intends only for his means to support his selfish material desires. Economic status is one of the more common manners in which men and women measure to what degree they have succeeded in life. The insight includes several central narratives, as we learn that life is three dimensional and completeness is the result of living in a manner in which your length, width, and height of life are equal in measure. In this insight you will discover your length, width, and height of life; so you can begin to control endless material want and live a complete life. Life is so much more than the size of our house, the make and model of our vehicle, or the ability to afford a $400 pair of jeans.

The Real Breath of Life: An Indictment of Color, the 6th Insight, connects a quote from W.E.B DuBois; “It is the trained, living human soul, cultivated and strengthened by long study and thought, that breathes the real breath of life into boys and girls and makes them human, whether they be black or white, Greek, Russian or American…” to the recent deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, and Oscar Grant III. A stark comparison is made between America’s response to the killings of young Black boys and the killing of young white children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Every life has value, and we have to get below the surface of skin color and erect a world in which we can look upon any child, any man, any woman and breathe into them the real breath of life. This powerful insight will cause you to look at your world differently. Hopefully it will also propel everyone to act differently with a greater love ethic and with a greater appreciate for life. We cannot continue to kill our children, irrespective of the beautiful color of their skin; whether they are black, white, Greek, Russian, or American. As a world, we have to move beyond our issues of race and color. Until we do we will never reach the full potential of humanity.

Into Accord with our Complexes is the 7th Insight. The insight revisits the psycho-analyses of Sigmund Freud to help us understand and examine our modern day complexes. Many are familiar with the “little man” complex, inferiority complex, or even the “ugly duckling” complex. But perhaps not so familiar are the Oedipus complex and the Electra complex, which describe phases in a young boy’s or young girl’s psycho-sexual progression, as suggested by Sigmund Freud. The insight explores the critical complexes that make us who we are and encourages us to get into accord with our complexes. By understanding how our complexes shape who we are, we can develop actions and patterns to turn our negative complexes into positive life energy. The central narrative involves a young high school student in Knoxville, Tennessee believing he was more than the complexes assigned to him; but not fully aware of the complexes of others, he struggled to understand how he might fit into a complicated world that viewed and treated him differently. The story continues into the young man’s adulthood, where complexes are manifested and transmitted to posterity; often times to the hazard of one’s well-being. Very sensitive life topics are discussed in this chapter. This examination required extreme courage. You the reader will need courage in equal measure. To say that this insight is powerful is a grave understatement. This insight will help the individual understand, accept, and get into accord with life’s complexes; for after all, according to Freud; A man should not strive to eliminate his complexes, but to get into accord with them; they are legitimately what directs his conduct in the world.”

The 8th Insight, What More Can Colored People Want?, simply encourages the human spirit to examine the world and evaluate how we see ourselves in the grand scheme of things. If you are blessed with a Black, Brown, Red or Yellow-skinned face in America, you are, consciously or subconsciously, constantly on the lookout for other faces in the crowd that look like yours. We find comfort in numbers, especially within the cultural divisions within the nation. If one is Asian, she looks for other Asian faces. If one is Arabic, he looks for faces of Arabic descent. If one is colored, one looks for other colored faces in the crowd. Even if one is blessed with a White-skinned face, one may experience the same when one finds himself or herself, on rare occasion, in the midst of being severely outnumbered in a public or private setting. Have you ever been in a social or professional situation where no one else in attendance looked like you? All of a sudden you become keenly aware of your skin color and the social dynamics associated with the trial and tribulations of a mixed race world. We look for others in the crowd that look like us, seeking some level of comfort; to give us an idea of just how open the environment is to the population we represent. This is a natural inclination, whether at work, attending worship services or, as this narrative begins, in a bookstore looking for a good book to read. We make decisions about people and organizations based on how many colored faces we see in the crowd, or at least faces that resemble our own. The heart of the narrative is a father who desires vehemently for his teenage daughter, who is on her way to attend college at Stanford University, to have the opportunity to live in a world that was not possible when he was her age. What more can colored people want? This question was posed by Frederick Douglass many years ago. This insight gives the question new meaning; especially in a country as colorful and as diverse as the United States.

Part Three, the final part of the book, Truth, begins with the 9th Insight, The Responsibility for Being Oneself. In this insight, a young woman examines her life after the life-altering death of her beloved mother. Her mother’s death left her with more questions than answer, as with many of us after we have lost a loved one. But we learn in this insight, after crying along with the wonderful spirit who courageously gives us this anecdote, that if we accept the responsibility of being the person we are destined to be then our lives, and the lives of those around us, turn out exactly as intended. In the story we learn that Rochelle moves from job to job, from industry to industry, as an adult. She eventually found herself questioning, as she approached middle-age, if she had made the right choices in life. She wondered why her life had not materialized into what she had always envisioned for her life. But she was always responsible for being herself. As a result, she was exactly where she needed to be when her mother was nearing death. Such responsibility is a wandering in the wilderness at times, but when life calls, we will be elated that we were responsible for being ourselves, because we will be exactly where we need to be, precisely when we need to be.

The quality of one’s life is determined by the quality of one’s actions. Far too often current circumstances are offered for consideration as to why a person may have made a bad decision and acted inappropriately. “I am a victim of circumstance” is an all too familiar reframe. Being pressed down into challenging and depressive social and economic conditions is not the reason one fails to rise in life. One must always possess the capacity to take appropriate actions to have a positive impact on the human environment within which one intends to carve out a great life. Appropriate actions in life can be defined by three factors; timing, awareness, and position (TAP). The 10th Insight, The Sugar Ditch, summons a simply question; Are you tapped in or tapped out? Are your timing, awareness and position effective and efficient enough for you to achieve as you desire? Life offers no guarantees, and in this insight you learn that how far you travel depends tremendously on you! The narrative involves a young man that was born and raised in one of the most deplorable places in the United States, the Sugar Ditch of Tunica, Mississippi. But he did not fall victim to his deplorable upbringing. He took actions that impacted his timing, awareness, and position. As a result, he is a heavily decorated United States Naval Officer and a Superintendent of a large public school district. He was tapped in. Are you?

In the 11th Insight, The Hands By Which We Take Hold of Heaven, we are reminded that children are the hands by which we take hold of Heaven. When we add up all that we spend on the average child in America, in the life of that child, we find ourselves in the range of a million dollars. We have million dollar babies in America in need of more love, more hugs, and more discipline than they are in need of someone spending another dollar on a video game, iPad, or pair of Lebron James sneakers just to keep them busy and out of sight. In this insight we examine the narrative of a phenomenal spirit that takes it upon himself to touch the lives of young teenage at-risk boys and turns their lives around with love, hugs, and discipline. While the back drop is athletics, and a nonprofit organization called Team SAGE, there is much more going on in this insight than simply turning at-risk kids into star athletes. We learn what can happen in the life of a child when an adult commits to serving and loving the child. Our children are not here to serve us; they are here to be served by us.

The 12th and final Insight, A Punishment Worse Than Death, begins with the following paragraph: I understand that on the underside of wealth and prosperity lies a troubling problem, which both falsifies and augments it; and that is the fact that for one man to prosper to great means, the overwhelming majority of men are required to assume the lowest and deepest points of being and ability, and to consign to a life of meaningless and tedious habits so as to provide for the comfort of the one who lives in abundance; even if the price of this abundance means that the majority of men live less-than favorable lives. The last insight examines how we live and compares our lives to the Greek Mythology of Sisyphus, who was consigned to an eternal punishment of endlessly pushing a boulder up a hill, for the boulder never reaches the top of the hill. So many of our lives parallel Sisyphus’ punishment, as viewed by the Gods as a “punish worse than death.” We engage the same tedious toil day in and day out until our life ends, punishing ourselves by endlessly attempting to get our rock up the hill, while never quite getting there. Most of us work our entire life making someone else wealthy while we struggle to reach a satisfying level of means, comfort and enjoyment. There is no leisure in us, for we are constantly working, our shoulders against our boulder. Every year we hope things get better, but we tend to only have the hill to look forward to. This insight is about getting out from under your boulder, not consigning yourself to a punishment worse than death, and enjoying life in the manner in which it was meant to be enjoyed. The central narrative is a courageous life examination by a woman of German decent, who works as hard as anyone on earth. But she, like so many of us, wonders when she will finally succeed at getting her rock up the hill. It’s all about giving up the rock!

I am extremely excited with the thought that this book may be the very beginning to the end that will deliver many from the abyss of drudgery and into the arenas of self-awareness, self-knowledge, and self-understanding. With that thought, I give this literary work to my fellow wayfarers of every race, culture and background out of pure love. I pray this work of literature will help us learn to love ourselves and one another a little more and to establish knowledge, wisdom and truth as the guiding posts for moving forward. As participants in the process of human evolvement, we can no longer afford the luxury of living a life of illusion. We have to awaken our slumbering souls and begin to challenge the things that restrict us from being the person we envision, the man or woman we are meant to be. We must go forth with a complete knowledge of who we are as a race of people and understand that it is not you or I, but you and I, that hold the keys to our success and our betterment. We must be wise enough to realize that together we can move a mountain, but as individuals we simply live and die half-way up the hill.

I have attempted to destroy the institutions of belief that continue to hold us mentally captive within the psychological walls of self-pity and self-destruction. I have attempted to construct a forum for productive dialogue, a springboard for hope, and an environment for planting and harvesting love, understanding, and happiness. In the spirit of such a love ethic, I hope I have erected more good than I have destroyed. I hope I have assisted in the discovery of self-understanding, self-happiness, self-knowledge, and self-love. I hope I have helped someone find a way. 

So together, let’s test, examine, and monitor how we treat ourselves. While we may not be angels, as Abraham Lincoln suggested; for in all the days man has walked upright on this earth there has not been one shred of substantiated evidence that angelic capacities exist within us, we can strive for the upper chambers of our existence. We can access the advanced vortexes of our minds and the higher human instincts of our spirit and collectively move to those extreme destinations that can only be reached while working together in love and unity; and that is a truth concerning what we are capable of. We are creatures gifted with reason, blessed with volition, and morally and eternally flawed. We are challenged to become ethical subjects, as we contemplate who we are, what we are here to do, and what we are capable of. I believe we are here to self-liberate the anecdote; to self-determine, self-cultivate, and self-seek out the truth. And as Michel Foucault suggested, such truth is the product of testing oneself, examining oneself, and monitoring oneself by means of a series of clearly defined activities. 12 Insights will assist you in clearly defining your examination devices, as each insight provides you with an example and a witness. I’ll see you in the upper chambers, where we ethical subjects congregate.

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