Engage. You don’t need to be an expert.

Do we talk to other people about what we’re doing? About what they’re doing? Do we ask why we do what we do..buy what we buy, bank who we bank with..eat what we eat..send our kids to the schools that we send them to, fund the wars that kill for goals we support? Do we not only talk, but do we listen to what they’re saying…and even more importantly, think about what they really mean?

Are we trying to be members of a community, or do we see everyone as doing their own thing, a zero sum game, as passengers on a ship out of our control? Or do we see ourselves as part of it, as responsible for it, unafraid of facing the problems of our society?

Why we don’t do these things is addressed by Meslin. He says: “As long as we believe that people, our own neighbors, are selfish, stupid or lazy, then there’s no hope.” We must recognize this, because it is the collective that is going to change things. And once we accept this, we must have a conversation.

Politics isn’t a bad word unless you’re using it to win an argument, or give yourself an identity. Politics, in fact, is probably the most important thing to talk about right now. Not partisanship…but politics. There’s only one thing more important, and that’s figuring out that you belong in the conversation because you’re not an island onto yourself. That’s what Obama meant, but couldn’t really express.

We’re not different than anyone else, regardless of what they’re doing out there. The guy between jobs, the CEO, or the small businessperson. We have the opportunity to decide because people believed so much in the idea that we’re all equal, that they were willing to die for a system that could give us the power to decide…and it DID give ALL OF US the power to decide. And we must decide, or else the institutions, corporate and government, they will do it for us. And I think these institutions have gotten too big to handle our needs. It’s up to us to start this conversation.

Now, it’s up to us.

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Who do you trust?

I was at the Nelsonville Music Festival this past weekend, at what may be the most underrated music festival in the whole of our United States of America. Under glorious clear skies, I walked around watching everyone sharing the campgrounds. There was no harassing, no thievery. You met others, shared what you had, and enjoyed yourself. There was a feeling of trust. A trust that is missing in many of the places we live.

Trust is powerful. It allows us to flourish. Trust builds friendship. It allows us to talk with others and expect to be respected. It gives us patience with life. But that’s just the start of it.

Trust makes you do the right thing

When you trust that others will do the right thing, then you will do the right thing regardless if that doesn’t do much to change the big picture, like if you choose to abstain from eating animals when most everyone else does not. Or being honest with the company expense account while others skim a little. Or moving your money out of Wall St banks when most other continue to use them. Or voting for a third party while most do not because they think it’s “throwing a vote away”. If everyone doesn’t trust others to do the right thing, then everyone will continue doing the wrong thing.

Trust brings about prosperity

When we work together, each with our expertise, we do great things. When we specialize in our areas of mastery, we can share the fruits of our labor equally in a collective society. Trust makes others know you will come through for them, just like they will come through for you. And the appreciation from others gives us a feeling of purpose. A reason to feel important in a world where it can be confusing to know what truly is important.

Matt Ridley makes a great observation of this in his book, The Rational Optimist: Self-sufficiency is associated with less wealth, while specialization with more wealth. And self-sufficiency takes a lot of time! The leisure time most of us have today is significant. And in a way, this leisure is more important than trust. This past weekend, it was this leisure time that allowed me to see trust demonstrated by interacting with others, by building a small community of respect and value.

How we use our leisure time is important, but it all starts with building confidence in our fellow human beings. Trust is having courage in the face of the unknown. It’s knowing that whatever happens, it’s going to be ok.

I felt that trust this weekend. I was reminded of how it made life better. It also reminded me that without it, we are likely lost.

After enough time, even important things fade into the background

Things fade into the background if they’re no immediate danger to us. The aging nuclear power plant that provides power but is not in compliance with safety regulations and sits near an earthquake fault line (like the Indian Point nuclear reactor outside of NYC). Or the cost of war in lives and money that doesn’t effect you… yet. Or the bank that continues to go into debt making risky bets because the government bailed them out by also going into debt. And without making cuts in government services…yet.

Last week the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, made an interesting announcment. The company lost over $2 billion dollars continuing their risky betting. Now, this is a fraction of their hundreds of billions of dollars in income. (Income, not profit: They have 3 times as much debt as assets.) So is Dimon preparing us for worse to come? Maybe. Or is he trying to establish an environment of acceptance of risky betting? Dimon said the investments were a “terrible, egregious mistake” but “we maintain our fortress balance sheet and capital strength to withstand setbacks like this.” Was this a PR move to instill trust in a market that is losing it?

In 1912, JP Morgan, the founder of this company, was speaking in a testimony with Congress. He was asked whether banking debt is based on money or property.
He answered that it was about character, “before money or anything else. Money cannot buy it…Because a man I do not trust could not get money from me on all the bonds in Christendom.”

Do you trust a market where you buy things like a television? How about a market that buys…money? There’s a big difference that needs to be appreciated. One is in the business of creating cheap goods and services for money. The other is in the business of creating money. One is less government driven and difficult to corrupt, while the other is more government driven and much easier to corrupt. What they have in common is that the consumer decides whether to buy their goods or services.

And that consumer is you and me.

MLK commemorative post: Dr. King fought against the majority. Today we have the same fight.

Dr. King once said: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering.” And so, today, we too, must sacrifice to take control of our lives once again.

Dr. King fought against the apathy of the white majority and today we also fight against the apathy of a majority

Dr King inspired others to face the powerful and established practice of discrimination. The discrimination which Dr King fought against was based on race, but it didn’t affect the mostly white US population. Society went about its business, just like today, but today our apathy led us to a recession that almost resulted in the total economic collapse of our country.

A corporate system without consumer oversight is a system that will promote inequality

Today we have a cultural acceptance of our powerful financial system, which has slowly grown and allows us to spend less and have more money in our bank accounts. The benefits of this system are for everyone, from the corporation to the consumer. Still, the situation threatens the very structure of our free society.

Power follows money, and today we see a movement of power from elected officials to a corporate minority. This concentration of power has grown so large that when the existence of a few banking and automobile corporations was threatened, the whole country was affected: Regardless if you were rich or poor, we lost businesses, jobs, and retirement savings.

We can reclaim power over the institutions if we follow Dr. King’s advice: Sacrifice.

A sacrifice of personal financial growth. As Dr King sacrificed, we too must sacrifice our way of life to correct the injustices of today: We must turn away the money that trickles down from careless and dishonest Wall Street bankers and the corporations. We must control our own finances and earnings to take back the power we are giving them. We must move our money to local banks and credit unions. Institutions should be dependent on us. Not us on them.

Race cannot be used to determine who is given opportunity, and neither can capital

Today, as in the past, we have a grave danger that cannot be ignored. We cannot continue to be apathetic about the division of the country into rich and poor, just as the population before the 1960s was apathetic about the division of the country by race. We cannot continue to watch our capital accumulate in the hands of the minority. The future of our society depends on our capacity to sacrifice and to recognize the power we have as consumers.

Yes. We can.

TED Talk Tuesday: Your neighbor isn’t stupid or lazy



Why is there apathy? Meslin says it is because our environment encourages it. Apathy is in our nature, just like our determination, selfishness, and kindness. But our environment is a powerful promoter, of both good and bad traits. Meslin describes how society makes it hard to to be active in your community, how media depicts heroism as being for the chosen few, and how the system makes political involvement uninspiring and the political process complicated and manipulative.

“As long as we believe that people, our own neighbors, are selfish, stupid or lazy, then there’s no hope.”

Meslin made me realize that the bigger and more complicated our system grows, the more apathy will creep into our actions. If we can see that the system we are building is making our future both easier and impersonal, we can change it. In effect, we must save us from ourselves. And in a society so free, if we do not, we only have ourselves to blame.

So let’s reach out and empower ourselves. Start buying more from the people in our community. Let’s not give our money to careless and dishonest Wall Street bankers. Let’s vote less for the two parties and more for the third party that hasn’t been compromised by money. We can make the change. As Ghandi said,

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Your neighbor isn’t stupid or lazy.

And neither are you.


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