Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Ugly Truth



Right now the funds in my bank account are low – I am one of those people who lives paycheck to paycheck. I think it's fair to say I'm a slave to my paycheck and I'm not the only one. If I lost my job tomorrow, I'd be in big trouble. I notice there's a part of me, a teeny part, that feels ashamed of that. Like if I'm poor it's my fault because I'm not budgeting well or proactive enough. There might be some truth to that, but also I take a look around me and notice I'm not the only one experiencing this. And if I'm not the only one experiencing this, doesn't that point to something systemic? Yes! It does!

A friend of mine works as a finance professor in a major metropolitan city and he told me something we don't like to admit about capitalism is it requires an economic underclass. In order for capitalism to function, someone has to get the short end of the stick. I'll remind you this is not coming from a pinko-commie, this is coming from someone who teaches finance at a well-respected university.

I'm a slave to the dollar and that sucks. Photo by Pepi Stojanovski on Unsplash.

The ugly truth about capitalism is it requires exploitation. I read a fascinating article the other day about the myth of the ethical shopper. The author, Michael Hobbes, wrote that these days, it's not the U.S. that's a major culprit of sweatshops, it's other countries. Indian children subsist off of pennies a day making clothing not for Americans, but for Indians or Chinese. Hobbes also said the production cycle is so divorced from people at the top, no one really knows where their clothes are made. Contracts subcontract out over and over again until the whole thing becomes a tangled mess. And for people in those sweatshops who try to unionize, the company says, “See you later,” and goes to another country where regulation is more lax and they can pay people less. As long as we care about getting something for the lowest price possible, we'll continue to have this situation.

It's not only a developing world problem, by the way, it's also in the good old U.S. of A. Women are still paid less than men, and women of color really get shafted. And let's not forget the exploitation rampant in sectors like food. The working conditions for people who pick produce is appalling. I bring this up because we pretend capitalism can work as a system, that it only needs a few tweaks. We pretend that anyone can become a millionaire if they only remove their mental blocks to abundance. That may be true, but what about everyone else?

Did you know approximately eight people own half the world's wealth, according to Oxfam? The Economist takes issue with the math, but even they conclude a small number of people own half the world's wealth. That means the rest of us are fighting for a small piece of pie. I don't know about you, but I'm not OK with this. We have a minimum wage, why don't we have a maximum wage? Why don't we have rules about how much wealth one person can own? If that sounds too communist, OK, then how about enhancing our social safety nets? Right now, the U.S. government is cutting funding for food stamps, Medicare, and other social services. If I lose my job tomorrow, I'm more likely to lean on friends and family than the government. Isn't the government supposed to be of the people, by the people, and for the people? I'm sure not seeing a lot of that.

I realize this post is not an optimistic one, but in this instance, I think it's important to acknowledge the ugly truth. Until we do, we'll never see the changes we'd like in our society, and I long for those changes.

I dream of a world where everyone everywhere has their basic needs met. A world where we aren't slaves to our paychecks. A world where we can lose our jobs and still be taken care of. A world where we start treating all living beings as worthy and deserving of respect.

Another world is not only possible, it's probable.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

What is a Leader?



As I contemplate President Trump's recent comments about “shithole countries” and the upcoming birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., I can't help but wonder what it means to be a leader because one I think of as a leader, and the other I do not. In the past, I would have told you a leader is a person in charge, but as I've gotten older, I'm realizing how false that is. A person may be in charge due to privilege or nepotism or a host of other reasons, and not be what I call a leader.

The answer to the question, what is a leader, also changes depending on the circumstances. A leader could be someone with the most physical prowess or keen intellect. These days? It seems the majority of our supposed leaders are those with money or privilege. Furthermore, those in power seem more interested in exploitation and personal gain than the welfare of society as a whole.

This image seemed the most appropriate. Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

According to my spiritual teacher, this is the cycle of social evolution, where one particular class enjoys domination and superiority over another. By class, he means the laboring class, the warrior class, the intellectual class, and the merchant class. And each class rises and falls over time in a process that cannot be halted.
“The function of a [leader] shall, therefore, be to see that the dominating or the ruling classes do not have any scope for exploitation,” he said. “The moment one class turn into exploiters, the life of the majority becomes miserable; a few enjoy at the cost of many whose lot is only to suffer. More than that, in such a state of society both the few and the many get degenerated. The few (exploiters) degenerate themselves due to [an] excess of physical enjoyments, and the many (exploited) cannot elevate themselves, because all their energy is taken up in mundane problems .... Hence, for the physical, mental, and spiritual welfare of the administrator and the administered of the society as a whole, it is essential that no one be given any scope to exploit the rest of the society.”

Leaders then are active participants, they are like watchdogs, keeping an eye on signs of exploitation and then doing something about it. It seems to me, the primary quality of a leader is someone who is concerned with the well-being of humanity as a whole. A leader is not someone who cares only about their selfish pleasures. I won't speak for everyone, but I'll say for myself, I have an expectation a leader will swoop in out of nowhere and save us all. And furthermore, that a leader possesses skills and qualities that I do not. Like they're magical beings while I'm a mere human. Is that true though?

Vince Lombardi said, “Leader's aren't born, they are made.” That means we all possess the potential to be leaders. We all have the power to change something, to do something. We may not all trigger systemic change like Rosa Parks, but maybe. We'll never know if we don't try.

I dream of a world where we recognize we all have the potential to become leaders. A world where we understand leaders are not necessarily those in power and could be anyone, including us. A world where we each do our part to shepherd humanity toward a brighter tomorrow.

Another world is not only possible, it's probable.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Fate Belongs to Us



I had a moment on New Year's Eve where I thought about going to bed before midnight. It would have been easy – I was in my room, lying down, waiting for the minutes to tick closer to 12. For the first time in my life, I realized a year is a collection of days and in some ways the start date is meaningless and arbitrary. Particularly because the Jewish New Year, which takes place in September or October, seems more in alignment with marking the phases of my life.

I think the other reason the start of the new year didn't excite is me because I've blown past all the mile markers I set for myself, and others set for me. A psychic told me by age 30 I'd have two elementary-aged children. Another told me in 2017 I'd meet my romantic partner. Two years ago I thought I'd be engaged this past winter. Those dates came and went without any of the predictions coming true. I bring that up because this is the first year I have zero expectations for the year. This is the first time the year ahead of me is a big question mark.

We make our own fate. Photo by Cristian Escobar on Unsplash.

All around me people are making their new year's resolutions or intentions or goalsetting while I'm not. A part of me feels anxious about that, like I should be doing the same thing because otherwise the year will be terrible and I'll be miserable, but I also realize the year is a collection of days and can start over at any time. Instead of freaking out that I haven't planned my whole life, I'm recognizing I can make plans when I'm ready. I know goals are important because they give us direction, but right now I'm building my trust muscle, trusting that when it's time for me to make a goal, I will. It could be a random day in April and that would be fine.

This year I'm understanding more deeply the future is not laid out before me like a bread crumb trail. The future is a culmination of past actions, some that are out of my awareness.

My spiritual teacher said, “The stars do not control you; your original actions control you. And where the original action is not known to you, but the result is known to you, the result is experienced by you, you say it is fate.”

There's a freedom in realizing my past actions dictate my future because it means anything is possible. It means I could head in any direction and anything could happen to me this year. Life is a precious collection of moments that are largely unplanned. I don't want to miss out on the treasures because I'm too busy following a schedule I set for myself. This year I'm really and truly open to whatever is and that feels like a good thing.

I dream of a world where we take the pressure off ourselves to plan our whole lives. A world where we realize the new year can start for us at any time. A world where we remember plans are more like guidelines and nothing is set in stone. A world where we recognize fate belongs to us and we can take our time.

Another world is not only possible, it's probable.