Friday, October 10, 2008

Crisis = Danger + OPPORTUNITY

Hello all,

I'm sorry I haven't posted in a while, but I'm back. I've been cogitating a lot lately (like everybody else and their brother-in-law) on the current financial situation. But I'm taking a slightly different tack with my thinking, and I wanted to share it with you. It's just another way of looking at things.

Everyone has heard the old saying that crisis is made up of both danger and opportunity. I think we've heard about the "danger" side of the current Financial Crisis until we are sick of it, but we've heard very little about the "opportunity" side of it.

You heard me. I used the word "opportunity". I honestly think some good things can come out of this debaucle, if we can just be conscious of them.

  • The opportunity to re-evaluate : A large factor in this whole mess is the fact that our mainstream culture is convinced that a person's value is measured by their paycheck. I, too, have long considered my personal worth to be based on the number on my pay stub. But basing my value as a person on that is so very wrong. My dear great Aunt never got a paycheck in her life, but she was one of the hardest-working, most loving, and most wise people that I have ever had the honor to know. Her death was a great loss. Her wisdom and gentleness are greatly missed, and she contributed more to my life than any 401(k) match ever could. The loss of money that we are experiencing now gives us the chance to step back and look at the importance that money has in our lives and to change our attitudes.

    In the past few decades, money has become not just the most important thing, it has become the only thing. And this ought not be. Of course money is important; in our non-agrarian culture, we need it to put a roof over our heads and food on our table. However, it shouldn't be the most important thing, and it definitely should not be the only important thing.

    We have neglected our hearts and our spirits to worship a golden idol. And you don't have to overtly kneel in front of something to worship it. Putting an overwhelming amount of focus on an object, person, or idea is a form of worship, too.

    I just read a great interview with financial advisor Suze Orman that puts a lot of this into perspective. I think her description of the current situation is pretty accurate:
    We have built an entire economy on lies and deceit. It's like building a home or an entire building on a sinkhole. You have a foundation, supposedly. But a little crack, if something goes wrong -- a little earthquake, a tremor -- and it starts to open, everything starts to all down and ... that is exactly what has happened in the United States of America.

    You can read the rest of the article here . I agree with her statement. We have built our wealth on a false prosperity. We have generated wealth "on paper" with nothing real behind it. It was an illusion of wealth built on credit and money that wasn't actually there. Now that false prosperity is crumbling away. But once we are aware of the illusion, we have the chance to back away, turn around, and start to build a prosperity that is real, one that includes the spiritual and energetic aspects of reality, not just the financial aspects.

    When I was in high school, I took a local history class. For one project, we had to interview one of our family elders and ask them a series of questions. One question was "How do you measure someone's success?" Most people came back with the answer of "money". This surprised me, since a lot of the elders in question had lived through the Depression. I expected a different answer from them. But when I asked my grandmother, who had worked a great deal of her life, that question, her answer? "Happiness. If you are happy with where you are and with what you have, no matter what you have, then you are successful." I liked that answer. I still do. I like the thought of contentment.

    One co-worker of mine said it well when he said, "Advertisements just kill our contentment. They absolutely squash it. Because if we're content, we won't go out and buy more stuff." He is right. A lot of corporations can't afford for us to be content. They have to keep convincing us to buy the latest gadgets, the latest fashions, bigger houses, newer cars, because they have to feed their monster. The monster will die if contentment is found. And they have to keep the monster of Wealth alive. There is nothing wrong with having something good or something new -- just don't expect to get your contentment from those things. Contentment comes from somewhere else, from inside of you.

    Let's take this opportunity to re-evaluate the place that money has in our lives and to decide what is truly important. Let's re-learn what contentment means.

  • The opportunity to reconnect: Over the last few years, I've heard story after story about families that spend very little time together and are scattered to the winds by a packed schedule of soccer, ballet, etc., etc. But over the past few weeks, I've read other stories that say that people are starting to cocoon at home because gas was too expensive for that kind of running around (or in the Southeast, nearly impossible to find at any price). Well, here is an opportunity to reconnect with our families, to slow down from our constant buzzing about and actually be together for the first time in many years.

    Let's not whine about what we can't do because we can't go anywhere. Let's discover what we can do at home or in our neighborhood. We can learn that baking bread from scratch is actually a lot of fun (just did that last weekend and loved it). We can read a good book. We can even read a good book to each other! My husband and I read aloud to each other all the time and have rather lively debates about what we've read. It is great fun and great fuel for family conversation, and it is definitely more interactive than watching another rerun of "Desperate Housewives".

    You don't even have to buy books if you don't have the budget for it. You can rediscover the neighborhood library, trade books with other families, or even download some classics from the Project Gutenberg website. Many books whose copyrights have expired can be found here for free. It's even legal! There are lots of wonderful books by the likes of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Jules Verne, Shakespeare and Mark Twain. (I am currently reading a download of Following the Equator, which I have heard is one of Jimmy Buffet's favorite books and inspired some of his songs. If you are a ParrotHead Completist, you must read it.)

    And of course, the Bible has been a best-seller for millenia and can be read online for free at many web sites, including here. Reading the Good Book right now certainly couldn't hurt, to be sure.

  • The opportunity to change the economy from a credit-based to a cash-based economy: This was suggested in the interview with Suze Orman that is linked above. We need to stop living from paycheck to paycheck if we can. I know not everyone is able to do this right now, but more people are capable of it than they think. Christmas is coming up; let's resist the urge to max out the cards on gifts this year so that we're not paying for them until the next Christmas. Let's not buy more "extra" stuff than the cash that we have now can get for us. (I include myself in this admonition as well!)

    If you are just now getting out of school... please learn from the experience of those who have been out there for a while. If you can avoid debt, do it. Pay off you college debts, if any, and please start saving some money, even if it is just spare change at first. Avoid the cycle of debt if you can. Don't be lured into the credit card trap by the siren song of building up your credit record. Lots of credit records get ruined that way. If you want the fun stuff, please save up for it and buy it outright... don't be paying for it long after it has lost its lustre for you.

    I never knew how much of this economy revolved around "credit", which is actually money that doesn't truly exist yet. I guess I new that there was a lot of short-term credit out there for businesses, but I didn't know how much of it was used to make payroll. Has it always been this way in our industrialized nation? If not, when did it change? How did we get so dependent on credit that we couldn't pay our employees what we owe them on time without it? Again, the reaction to frozen credit tells me that we as a nation rely on it far too much. The prosperity we have is just an illusion at that rate.

  • Other Views on the 'Net:

  • Spiritual Opportunities: A great essay on the spiritual side of what I'm talking about can be found at the Christian Science Monitor. For those of you not familiar with the CS Monitor, it is a media service sponsored by the First Church of Christ, Scientist, organization in Boston (not to be confused with Scientology, which is totally different). I am not involved in that organization myself, but I do like their web site. They have an NPR-like style in reporting the news. They tend to stay away from the more tabloid-gossip-stories that are all over the other major outlets.

    One quote stuck with me:
    Instead of relying on bank accounts and bailouts for our stability – however much they provide some answers – we can put our trust in the divine economy. Then, what needs to end – such as greed and dishonesty – will come to an end, replaced by revival and stability.

    I have often thought that there were 2 "economies": one financial and one spiritual. The financial one, of course, deals with the exchange of money. The spiritual one deals with the exchange of spiritual energy, whether it is between individuals or within a culture or between a human and a divine being. We have paid a lot of attention to the financial one but neglected the spiritual one. I think the two economies affect each other; when one suffers, the other will suffer in time as well. I think that is what has happened to us. I think the current situation really highlights how much we have neglected our spiritual sides... and now that we see it, we have a chance to correct it.

  • Environmental Opportunities: I have found someone else who also feels that this is a time of opportunity, the No Impact Man. I highly recommend this blog. I have read it off and on for about a year now. Although I am not as extreme in my views, I like a lot of what he says about happiness and contentment.

  • ... more to come as I continue to think of new opportunities here... if you think of any that you think should be listed here, please leave me a comment! I would love to hear what other ideas are out there.