Your strength is needed. Now…more than ever.

Some people think they know better than others. You know the type. They give advice on everything. They believe they have the system of do’s and don’ts that will work. They want what is best for you. And they believe they know what the best thing for you to do is. In fact, they think they know what is best for everyone.

Others believe it’s better for people to make their own choice. They believe people will strive, work, share, and care for others. Not because we’re forced to, but because in a stable system of laws, that is what we will do. They believe people should have the freedom to live how they want, but without hurting others. To choose what passion to follow, where to work, how much to pay, how much to get paid, what to buy, how to explore their own consciousness, and who to congregate with.

There are those who want a system of control because they want to protect people, not just from others, but protect them from making the wrong choices. They want to protect us from ourselves. They are cautious of people. Do they even trust people?

They like giving guidelines, and providing a program. They believe in a high standard of living, and they want everyone to have that standard, not just the opportunity for that standard, because they think everyone deserves it. And they will engineer a system using their formula of mandates that will get you this, regardless of how this effects the financial condition of the country. They will make it too affordable to pass up or they will cook it into the system so you have no choice.

These people truly want to help others.

And they believe they are the expert authority on that. And they believe in a central authority. Like a central bank that controls money, or a central insurance company that controls health care, or a central department of energy and agriculture to provide corporate welfare. Or a police authority that has taken our right to trial, so we can be arrested without charge.

Those who believe in people are different. They are courageous, because living an empowered life is damn scary. But that is why we are here. Not to make a perfect world, but to accept that life is not going to be perfect, and anything that is worth doing in life is risky. And caring about someone else is not about giving them something. It’s about being their friend and helping them face to face, not through a check delivered by a service taken from our paycheck.

We’re here to make choices, not have someone else make them for us.

We’re here to get hurt, mend, learn, and grow. And when we see someone else hurting, we’re here to extend our own hand and help them up. Not pay others to help them for us. Because people need to intimately know they are valued before they can do something of value. And because you cannot make someone care about you by forcing them to share with you.

We’re here to explore our passions and our own consciousness without being restricted on what we can do, unless it hurts another person.

We know that we cannot get as far alone as we can by joining others, but not in faceless networks. We’re here to share life in a community, because we must have the opportunity to learn that without guidelines or incentives, a rich life is one of honest collaboration with others.

We know that if we give leaders the authority to do things on behalf of us, we must remain aware of how they are using this power. And that we must stop them when we feel they are doing a disservice to us.

We know that we should treat everyone else how we would want to be treated. And so we act accordingly.

These people trust humanity to do the right thing.

Some might call these libertarian values.

But they are not.

They are called human values.

And I believe it is how we should live.

How bizarre, how bizarre

Last night, Romney was criticizing a law that doesn’t really exist, and Obama was talking about doing something that he said he would do when he ran for office the last time.

Romney said that the Dodd-Frank Act “designates a number of banks as too big to fail, and they’re effectively guaranteed by the federal government.”

But most of the Act is unenforced, since regulators don’t know how the Wall Street banks make-up what they sell. Bernie Frank (Democrat) even said that since regulators have not defined what a qualified mortgage is, the policy “has no effect” on loans now, which “will not be covered by this.”

And Obama talked about preventing loopholes and tax breaks for businesses shipping jobs overseas, and what has been done about that in 4 years? Will Romney be able to change any of this?

How bizarre.

Why do we continue to vote for these parties?

Let’s make the change.

How to make your vote count

Many feel that money influences our representatives.

Many believe that elections are decided by money rather than votes. I think this is correct, but only in so much as we believe that is true and willingly throw our vote away or not vote. I know this because I was one of those who felt helpless and didn’t bother voting.

I was helping to creating an environment of hopelessness. An environment that promoted the idea that our neighbors are ignorant, dumb, and lazy. Then I realized something important. With this attitude, we will never elect any real change into office. We will think our personal vote doesn’t matter because it will be diluted by the mass of humanity who isn’t paying attention.

But I was wrong. I was more than wrong, in fact. I was part of the problem!

As much as people are focused on themselves and their wants and their opinions, they are also influneced by their environment. In fact, studies have shown if a person is given a test with an obvious answer, they will change their answer to the wrong one when they are put into a group of people who provide that wrong answer!

It is indeed true, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. Devalue your vote and your fellow citizen’s capacity to do the right thing, and after a time, you will find that that is precisely the environment you live in.

Value that vote. Ask others how they’re voting. And why.

In Egypt (and Syria, and Tunisia, and Bahrain) people are rioting against military police because they don’t want to be told what to do by a dictator. They are being arrested without trial by secret police and being tortured because they want the right to vote.

Don’t throw your vote away.

The question to ask yourself is: What are the most important issues? And are the Democrats or Republicans addressing these issues, or avoiding them?

Remember, the power is still with us.

The secret to truly changing yourself

When I was in middle school, I noticed that I was smaller than most of the other kids. And I hated that. I hated my skinny arms and legs. So I started lifting weights. And eating… and taking supplements. I got bigger, but I always found fault. Even throughout college, I compared myself to other guys.

For years, I forced myself into this lifestyle until it became a habit… until one year. I stopped working out. I had met someone, the first person who showed care for me. We moved in together. I soon realized that I had never been training for me. Now, years later, I exercise for myself, for the good feelings I get. And I focus on getting fit, not big.

Changing something in your life means taking control. And where does that control come from? Your personality, values…your attitude, right?

So the first step in changing our actions is finding out what values are driving them. Is it because we’re unhappy with ourselves? Because no matter how much you “improve”, you will never become happy with yourself if you’re not already content with life.

Once you gain this self-awareness, then whatever changes you want to make aren’t hard, because…well…because you want them. When my goal changed from getting validation to being fit, it was almost unconscious. I didn’t obsess over becoming healthy. I didn’t hold myself to a strict program. I didn’t read books about why it was better to be more fit. I didn’t do those things because I didn’t need to do those things.

A measure of the value of a goal is how much you want to do the grunt work. But if the drive to change comes from inside you, you will embrace the grind and it will cease to be one. Facing the challenge of something new will become exciting, not paralyzing. The sacrifice won’t feel like a sacrifice.

But it won’t really work if you’re doing it because you think you must or you have no choice. You can’t do it if fear is driving you, or if you’re forced to.

People do change. We evolve. Just don’t force it. Evolution is natural. Other people and your environment can supplement a change in your values, but the truest values, the ones that drive us to do the right thing, always come from the inside.

So what’s the secret to really changing yourself?

Let go of what you think you need.

Free yourself. Because no one else will.

We were meant to evolve. And we have the self-awareness and freewill to do exactly that.

You are more important than you think

“How can I help you?”
“I was calling to close my Citi accounts.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. And why are you wanting to close your account?”
“Well, after I’ve been reading about the part that Citi played in buying and selling mortgage bond derivatives, going into huge debt, which caused the market to collapse, I feel that I can’t do business with them.”
“Uh. Ok. So you’re closing your bank account because of the mortgage bond derivatives or whatever?”
“Yes.”
“Ok.”
Silence.
“You know, back in 2008 the market crashed-”
“Oh, I know. I’ve been an account specialist for 10 years.”
“Ok”
“So you’re closing your Citi account? Are you not having a bank account anymore…?”
“I’m closing all my Wall St bank accounts. And keeping my accounts with my local bank.”
“Ok. Well, I can’t turn back the clock, unfortunately. It looks like you had a lot of activity on your accounts.”
“Yes.”
“So 4 years later you’re closing your account..”
“Yes, I would’ve done it sooner, but I didn’t know things would turn out like they did.”
“Well, I can’t speak to the actions of the bank, but restitution has been made and we’ve moved ahead.”
“I don’t think it has. The US market collapsed, and, you know, there’s blame to go around, but I think the banks need to face the consequence of their actions.”

The best part about living in a free society is that if someone does wrong, we don’t have to work for them if we don’t want to. We can quit. Or if there is someone who works for us and they do wrong? We can fire them if the government won’t do it.

The government, of course, encouraged the banks to give out mortgages by providing them the money, which led to homes being overvalued, and people getting homes who wouldn’t have been given mortgages before, but then defaulting on their payments.

But the bankers made the bad loans, and the Wall St banks deceptively packaged the bad loans with the good and sold them with good ratings, so it feels right that I fired all the Wall Street bankers that were working for me. Given, I’m still part of the system. And my money is still coming from a corporation, since I work for one. But it’s not coming from the most carelessly powerful corporations of all. The ones that the government is allowing to exist in the same too-big-to-fail capacity that they were in before the crash of 2008. Apparently, these banks should be called too-big-to-control.

But I controlled my business with them. And if we all do that, and make it known we will not stand for such clear carelessness and deceit, and we will not have our bank accounts, 401k’s, or credit cards with them, then I think the banks will be controlled. And they will be controlled in the best way possible:

By the customers who they have wronged and who must pay for their bailout.

And that’s you and me.

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.

Taking off the blinders requires learning how to ignore

I have trouble sitting down to work sometimes. My focus is on many things, and so it is on nothing. Then I realized how to let go. And it was more than simplifying and prioritizing. It was the realization that I needed to acknowledge and then ignore many things. In order to get stuff done, I needed to ask myself throughout the day, day after day, week after week: “What do you want? What are you doing?”

The other day, I was returning from the bathroom to continue my writing and saw the new handheld vacuum I had purchased recently. I like tools, and this was a bright, shiny new one. Soon, I was unplugging it, having just swept the kitchen. I stopped suddenly and thought, “What am I doing? Why am I not writing?”

Vigilance is key

Neil Gaiman has a great analogy for making tough decisions in life. If your goal is a mountain, make sure your decisions are taking you towards that mountain, not away. The mountaintop is far so it’s ok if it takes you a long time to get there, as long you’re making your way to it.

My experience would make me add this to his analogy, “Make sure you’re not circling that mountain, neither going towards it or away from it.” To this end, I think it’s vastly important to reiterate to ourselves, “What do I want? What am I doing?”

The day I started ignoring things was ironically the day I took the blinders off. I looked up from the solid foundation I was laying and noticed all the options that were open to me, from professional to social, and then I decided to stop and ask, “What do I want?” It is overwhelming, but the possibilities appear around you, and it is the first step towards accomplishing what you want.

The saying that ‘ignorance is bliss’ isn’t true. We’re not animals. To achieve bliss we must be conscious of our surroundings and taking a stand and making choices and adapting. And this requires taking the blinders off and asking ourselves repeatedly, “What am I doing? What do I want?”

Let go of what you think you need

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” -Thoreau

Most of my life, I didn’t have a problem with building castles in the air. Instead, I was laying solid, immovable foundation, hard and fast… on a swampy marsh. But I was totally invested in that career path to be a doctor. The familiar path. Without realizing it, I became that path. My identity was becoming that one thing, and all other things were unacceptable. Other options would be failure. Mindless, thoughtless, I was putting down a foundation for the foreman in charge, society at large, the unseen owner, for his approval, for the reputation, for my ego. I might as well been a bank thief, because I was taking something. Rather, I was a Wall street bank executive, because I was violating a trust. But I was violating my own trust. My self’s needs, and freedom. I was so focused on the goal, I lost sight of the why. The most important question of all. Why do you need it?

Let go of what you think you need. And then you won’t be afraid to risk big in order to get what you really need.

What, or who, do you need to let go of? Or what have you already let go and where has it taken you as a result?

Comment and let me know.

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.

TED Talk Tuesday: Graham Hill says “Less stuff, more happiness”



Graham Hill gives one of the best TED talks I’ve seen. We have three times as much living space as 50 years ago. But happiness has flatlined since then. Why? Because more stuff doesn’t make you more happy. The right stuff does.

It’s all about turning our paradigm on its head. I’ve been there. I’m in the store, and that ‘As Seen on TV’ car window scrubber looks really useful. So I grab it. And I do use it. Maybe a handful of times. But then I think about how a simple towel would have worked just as well.

“We need to think before we buy. Ask ourselves, “Is that really going to make me happier? Truly?” By all means, we should buy and own some great stuff. But we want stuff that we’re going to love for years, not just.. stuff.”

Less stuff means more freedom, means more time. When I go camping, somehow my worries are reduced, which relates to having everything I own for that trip in a backpack. My day is wide open and free. (Seeing a sunset over the Appalachian mountains helps prioritize things too, of course.)

“We’ve got to clear the arteries of our lives. And that shirt that I hadn’t worn in years? It’s time for me to let it go. We’ve got to cut the extraneous out of our lives, and we’ve got to learn to stem the inflow.”

What stuff do you think you could let go of in your life?

What stuff truly makes you happy?