TED Talk Tuesday: Paul says it’s time to start being fearful



Fear is not bad. Although as the foundation for your actions -the conservative hand that holds you back from trying- it is certainly a bad thing. But fear is helpful. A useful servant, but a terrible master. Good fear results from being aware of our worsening conditions. It comes from being able to judge clearly.

Paul Gilding helps us clarify the situation that the world’s rate of consumption is unsustainable. And it’s time to start being fearful. As he puts it, it’s time to end the denial:

“We tend to look at the world, not as the integrated system that it is, but as a series of individual issues. We see the Occupy protests, we see spiraling debt crises, we see growing inequality, we see money’s influence on politics, we see resource constraint, food and oil prices. But we see, mistakenly, each of these issues as individual problems to be solved. In fact, it’s the system in the painful process of breaking down — our system, of debt-fueled economic growth, of ineffective democracy, of overloading planet Earth, is eating itself alive.”
He suggests fear, but fear is not enough.

Empowerment is necessary, too. It’s time to start empowering people to know what they’re doing. What we’re doing when we go shopping, when we choose what to eat, where to work, who to bank with, and what media to view. It’s time to enable ourselves.

Spread the confidence to unplug from our current lifestyle -energy use, meat consumption, sprawling residences- and find better ways to do things. I don’t even see this as a sacrifice, because what we seek is not really at the end of a checkout line, or sitting in a nice car and nice clothes, or eating a steak. What we want is a connection with other people.

It’s time to be fearful. And then time to re-evaluate what we’re doing in our search for happiness. We may not only be missing that mark, but taking down our society and planet as well.

“It takes a good crisis to get us going. When we feel fear and we fear loss we are capable of quite extraordinary things.”

It’s time to be extraordinary.

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The perfect backyard and the perfect person.

I was out walking with Jesse the other day. The sun was setting and the western skies were aglow with shimmering orange and yellow and red. We passed a home with a back yard that was carefully landscaped with evergreen trees. They were clustered within neat rings of stone. A decorative stone bench sat at either end of the yard. There was small, neatly trimmed shrubbery flanking the area.

“That yard looks like a park,” I said.

I thought about the care of the owners to ensure that the branches were trimmed. The stones and benches clear of weeds. The grass surrounding them cut. I said, “I wonder what the yard is going to look like in a hundred years. Will the yard even be there? Will it be destroyed? Will the family have moved on, and will there be another family owning the place?”

The transience of life

I think about how much the yard was appreciated. I think of our constant struggle to keep order. Maintaining our hygiene, cleaning ourselves, walking about, working, exercising, cleaning again. Picking out the soap and shampoo that we like, maybe it’s the cheapest, or the one that has best scent, or the one used in all the salons, or the one that’s not tested on animals.

Finding the restaurant with the tastiest dishes, the ones we must have, and we’ll pay for it, because nothing else is good enough. Maybe getting fast food, because we just want to eat something, anything. Or going to places that get their ingredients locally. Or having a garden, or not eating animals because we do care, we care a lot about our actions…

Does it matter?

Eating, brushing our teeth, eating again, brushing again, stopping the rot, keeping the bacteria at bay. Our diligence! Cutting the grass, cursing the rain, cutting the grass again, trimming bushes.

Again and again and again.

Going shopping to replace worn clothes, or just because it feels good. Trying to make more money, searching for that job that will make us comfortable, that income that’s just out of our reach, if only we could get to it.

Until we don’t do it anymore

Until one day, we stand at the gates to be judged. The gates of truth. Our conscience. And we ask ourselves if we spent our time wisely. Did we make an effort to do the right thing, or did we follow the crowd? Did we work too much, too little? Did we care about our contribution, about the consequences of our actions? Did we care about people, about the future, or did we throw up our hands in helplessness? Did we worry too much, or did we enjoy our life?

I looked at the yard and thought all this, because this is what I do. I thought about the big clock. Tick-tock. And then I stopped thinking of that. And I started appreciating everything a little bit more.

The perfect backyard and the perfect person? Neither is possible. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try for them.

Is the easy life truly easy?

I was at the gym the other day, and I saw the cardio room filled with people, everyone moving on stationary machines, but going nowhere, and I laughed to myself. Later, on the way out, my laughter turned to amazement when someone told me about a projection keyboard her teacher used in her class. I didn’t understand how a keyboard could be projected and still work. Then I got to thinking about how our entire economy was dependent on bankers buying and selling bets, and how that could work.

Sounds abstract? I think so, too. So…

Is it possible to make life too abstract?

In a previous blog. I talked about how exercise gives us a feeling of accomplishment which is needed in a society that seeks to make things easier. When I looked out on the rows of cardio machines last week, I saw something a little different. There were people running in place. I turned to the other end of the gym, where people were lifting weights, up and down, over and over again.

It’s funny how we’ve replaced the work that gives us this exercise naturally, like washing clothes by hand, walking or biking to work, or raising and making our own food. We have specialized roles now, a machine washes our clothes or a laundromat offers to do it for us. Groceries provide us food, and a cook and a waiter who provide us meals. There are garbage men to pick up our trash and lawn service for our yards. We’ve got cars that we can drive, taxi drivers that can drive us, and car mechanics that will change our oil.

The same thing is happening with our retirement accounts. Instead of investing in stocks and bonds in companies we think are making a good product, we give our money to bankers and they make us money. They still buy stocks and bonds, but today we have added bets in the mix. These are bets that someone else’s purchase is going to go up in value. You can even bet whether something will go down in value.

Sound abstract? I think so, too.

The easy decision is easy…at first

We use machines to make it easier to do things and get places. It’s easy, but then we realize we bought a car that has 6 cylinders, instead of 4, and has cargo space for 6 people, and those things cost more. We realize that our sedentary lifestyle requires us to exercise. Not easy, because we must now pay money and make extra time to drive to a gym.

We’ve lost the knowledge of how to landscape a yard, or even change the oil in our car, and this makes us more helpless than before. And instead of making meals which we know the ingredients, we buy convenient meals which can contain sugars and fats that are out of our hands, hidden in the food.

Maybe most important, our investments are made by bankers. They send us statements that show that our little pile of money is ever increasing. It’s easy. Until we realize we don’t know what a derivative is, or a collateralized debt obligation, but we staked our future on them. We then realize that everything we’re doing is postponing the cost. The cost of us not supervising the banker is measured by the number of lost jobs and failed businesses after the banks defraud us and mismanage our investments.  

Sound abstract? I think so, too.

My cousin is vice-president of Securities at TD Bank.  He might be able to help us sort it out. I asked him how the derivative collapse affected them. He said, “Not too much.”

“Really?” I answered, surprised.

 “We looked at mortgage derivatives as a possible investment. We didn’t understand it, so we passed,” he answered simply.

If something is too complicated, ask why that is.

Maybe then we can make our lives truly easier.

Dr. King fought against the majority and today we have the same fight

In Washington DC yesterday there was a commemoration of a monument to honor Martin Luther King Jr. A number of speakers talked about Dr. King…about his words and how they inspired so many, but also spoke of his actions. And the mention of action made me hopeful. 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. We must fight to utilize the consumer power of the majority against the concentration of power in the corporation.

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 Wall Street and the corporations. We must control our own finances and earnings to take back the power we are giving the Wall Street bankers and the corporations. 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. Perhaps Dr King’s quote should be amended slightly:

We shall match OUR capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering.