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.

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.


Follow me and I will take you away from the everyday.

If this is something you care about, then SHARE it. Let’s get out of the stands and into the game. Let’s interact.

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.

Selfishness is not just about getting what you want, but knowing why you want it

I’ve recently been thinking about selfishness. Many would say selfishness is alive and well today in the US. For instance, we consume more than we produce. And although we have more than most other nations on earth, we are the fifth most generous nation, measured by our frequency of helping a stranger.

We do make some sacrifices, but not the ones you would expect of a selfish person: We sacrifice our health: 2/3 of us our overweight, and 1/3 are obese. We also sacrifice financial security: The average American household credit card debt is about $11,000.

Maybe we’re happy in this state. Let’s leave moral judgments aside and see if this is true.

The US ranks 16th in happiness in the world

Unfortunately, studies indicate that most people in the US are not too happy. According to self-report surveys, Americans are less happy than people in many other countries. But maybe our happiness standards are different than the standards of others, and these surveys don’t allow an apples to apples comparison.

Research shows that happiness is correlated with limiting our choices

Dan Gilbert and Barry Schwartz are two researchers who have added to the pile of observations about what makes humans happy.  There’s evidence that suggests that our actual circumstances don’t make us happy, and that more choices don’t lead to a condition that makes us happy. Having more options makes people less happy.  In test after test, subjects who were given more options were less happy than those who were given less options. Even more important, in a related study, people preferred to have more options, although this led to lower happiness. Why?

We want power

Having power makes us happy…until we get what we want.  Yet, we want the freedom to choose.  The freedom to decide. What is this called?

Selfishness.
And so it comes back to that.
That’s what we wanted all along, and in the United States, we have a lot of freedom to make our own decisions.
So why aren’t we happy?

We are not free from the most powerful control mechanism of all: Our mind. 

Our mind convinces us that happiness is achieved by controlling things, when it is truly achieved by controlling ourselves.  Instead of putting our priorities on assessing and improving our mental health, we focus on our material wealth. We most value our power over external variables, like other people or things, when, in the end, control over the material world means nothing if we cannot value ourselves. It seems that selfishness is vital to happiness, but not in the way we expect…

Selfishness is really about being mindful of ourselves

Selfishness is about being empowered and responsible. It’s not just about getting what you want, but knowing why you want it.

Here’s to all of us attaining the freedom of empowerment that is necessary to be happy.

Labor Day reminds me how to respect the laborer

This Labor Day makes me think of the workers who help me get everything I have. The food in my kitchen, the tv in my living room, or the car in my lot.  I thought, “Many of my dollars are paying people outside of my community, and so taking jobs and money from the people in my community. The right thing to do is buy goods that support my local economy” And then I realized that I cannot do this. My stuff didn’t come from one company, although there is only one company name stamped on the label. Many hands from all over the world contributed to each of those things, from their inception in creative minds in one country, to their manufacture in another that used supplier parts from still other countries.  But I can still make a right decision given this.

Making a right decision requires us to ask WHY it was the right thing to do

The supply chain is too diverse. And some out-of-state/country companies have invested in the people around me to make their product, like the Honda plant just outside of my city. What can I do? I can become more aware about where my stuff comes from, so that I know why I’m making the decisions that I am. I should require a company be able to tell me where their product comes from.  This way, I’m accountable for my actions.

Consumer accountability is empowering and it respects the laborer

Accountability gives our lives meaning. Without this, we are just consumers, and we cease to become members of a community.  As society becomes more complex, we must keep this power, because otherwise we are losing our freedom of choice and our connection to other people. And I don’t think anyone of us wants that.