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Sunday, August 21, 2011

The gift of facing the bigger picture

This is a macro view on our connection with all else on earth.
Every 5 seconds, 1 child dies in this world from hunger. We speak of interconnectedness, but how much and how deeply do we really care? And why should we be held responsible? Well, we are responsible, because our global society functions according to a principle of cause and effect.

Yet, here's how it worked so far:

  • The richest 10 % own 85 % of the global assets and the bottom half of the world adult population owns barely 1% of global wealth.

  • The richest 25 million Americans earn as much as almost 2 billion people.

  • Twenty-nine of the world's 100 largest economic entities are corporations:

  • Exxon Mobil, $63 billion, is richer than Pakistan.
    o General Motors, $56 billion, outpaces Peru and New Zealand.
    o Ford Motor and DaimlerChrysler, each over $42 billion, are wealthier than Nigeria.
    o Kuwait, $38 billion, is poorer than GE.
    o Honda, Nissan and Toshiba are wealther than Syria.

The above demonstrates the power of business in the world. Businesses are known to bring development and progress, so they are generally embraced. However, it also shows greater global inequality than ever before. In 2008 almost half the world's population, 2.1 billion people, lived on less than $2 a day, and at least 80% on less than $10 a day.

The problem is systemic, and requires more change than we are willing to make. The problem is that:

  • we think in distinctions: me versus the rest of the world;

  • we harbor a false sense of entitlement and independence – we think that what we currently have is ours forever more, and we think that we don’t need others;

  • we believe that “happiness” is a substitute for financial wealth and material gains.

  • we have become ignorant toward the fact that prosperity of one group always happens at the expense of another, because we live on a finite planet with finite resources.

  • we have become blinded by one single master, which determines our attitude, our friends, our livelihood, our preferences, and even the way we choose to look at problems: money.

Here are some examples:

  • We prefer to have multiple cars per family for convenience. But the 140 million cars in America use over 200 million gallons of gasoline daily!

  • We use 50 million tons of paper annually -- consuming more than 850 million trees.

  • American households waste about 14 percent of their food purchases, equivalent to 350 million barrels of oil a year.

  • Every year, Americans use about 1 billion shopping bags, creating 300,000 tons of landfill waste.

The Earth has been around for 4.6 billion years. If we scale this time down to 46 years, we have been around for 4 hours and our Industrial Revolution began just 1 minute ago. And see: we have ransacked the planet to get fuels and raw materials, caused extinction of countless plants and animals, and have multiplied uncontrollably.

Yet, there is still time and space to restore habitats and return species to them; shift our paradigm away from “me” toward more “we”; enhance awareness in others to secure a better world for our offspring, and become leaders of a movement of responsibility and equality instead of selfish profit maximization at others' expense.

As a point to ponder, here is a final segment of Krishnamurti's UN Speech, "On Peace in Our time":
“… how can one have external peace in the world, if one is not peaceful in oneself? […] We never seem to realize that unless each one of us fundamentally changes radically there will be no peace on earth. [...] So it behoves us, and each one of us, to find out why we live this way. And whether it is possible to radically change our whole psyche. If there is not a revolution there, mere outward revolutions have very little meaning. We have had communist revolution, French revolution, other forms of revolution throughout the world and we remain what we are, self-centered, cruel and all the rest of it”

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The gift of generosity

Dr. Howard Kelly was a famous physician, who is best known for his creation of the Johns Hopkins Division of Gynecologic Oncology at Johns Hopkins University in 1895. But there is a touching story that circles on the internet, about Kelly knocking at a door and asking for a glass of water. A little girl opened the door and brought him a large glass of fresh milk instead of water. Their ways parted, but after some time, Dr. Kelly was confronted with a patient who needed urgent surgery. The patient was no one else but… the little girl who had given him the glass of milk some time ago. When the girl received the bill for her surgery it read: “paid in full with a glass of milk.”

While some versions of the online story are dramatized to make Kelly a poor little boy selling door to door, and only later becoming the famous doctor who could return the favor, the core remained unchanged: Kelly did return the favor in a very generous way. He remembered the little girl who had given him the milk when he was so thirsty, and repaid her in a way she would have never dreamed of. There is, of course, also the side of the girl: she was generous to a stranger, and could never imagine that it would one day save her life.

For both people in this story, there is one important commonality: giving more than is expected from you without expecting anything in return. I am sure that Dr. Kelly’s act of gratitude and generosity to the girl was later also repaid to him in another generous way.

Happiness exists on earth, and it is won through prudent exercise of reason, knowledge of the harmony of the universe, and constant practice of generosity. ~Jose Marti

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The gift of an angel

The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone. ~George Elliot

When we think of angels, we think of heavenly beings with human features dressed in snow-white robes, and with huge white wings on their backs. It may be due to this image we have seen in books, movies, and through stories, that we are often overlooking the angels we meet every day. Yet, there are angels all around us. They work in stores and offices, walk on the street, sit beside us in the train, or keep us company in our own home. They look like old people, young people, but also like dogs, cats, or other living beings that we don't exactly represent the stereotypical angel image.

I once read the story of a young man who was concerned about his elderly father. Having recently suffered a stroke, the old man recovered well, but seemed to have lost his zest for life. He had become an old, bitter person, who seemed unwilling to cooperate with anything. Desperately, the younger man called all kinds of institutions to ask for suggestions on any possible way to help his father cope with life more positively. Finally, someone suggested getting his father a dog, because the responsibility over another creature often did wonders. The younger man drove to the dog pound and saw, among all kinds of dogs, this large, skinny dog that had a strange quite look on his old face. When inquiring about the dog, the young man learned that his time was almost over and he would be put to sleep if by tomorrow no one had adopted him. That did it. He took the dog home to his father, who was rather upset at first. Who said he wanted a dog? But then something connected between the old man and the dog, and a wonderful relationship developed. The old man gradually regained his old vigor and made long daily walks with his old friend. When, three years later, the old father passed away peacefully, it didn’t take more than a day or two before the old dog peacefully passed on as well. A deep friendship had made the last three years for both, man and dog, worthwhile*.

It was obvious to this young man that the old dog had been his father's angel. How many of us think of their pets as angels? Still, when we are sad, it's these home buddies who console us with their quiet presence. Angels are not necessarily in our lives to do major things. They may come for a moment and move on, or they may be there regularly, but never show their angel qualities until you need them. Think of the person who yields in traffic when you don’t expect it, the co-worker who offers to fill in for you when you really have to be somewhere else, the hand that pulls you back when you were about to cross the street without paying attention, the person who puts in a good word for you without you even knowing that, or the stranger who tells you that you look fabulous today just when you were down and really needed to hear something good. And we have not even considered the thousands of unknown angels that worked on sowing, reaping, processing, packing, transporting and preparing all the things you eat, wear, drive, live and sleep in.

There are angels all around us every day, and if we really recognized that, we'd rarely feel depressed, because we would realize all the time how fortunate we really are!

*Adopted from More, 2011,

Monday, August 1, 2011

The gift of today

One today is worth two tomorrows
~Benjamin Franklin

The fact that you are reading this note indicates that you received the gift of being alive, the gift of reading, the gift of understanding, the gift of the medium through which you read this, and the gift of time to do so. Along with all these gifts come others, such as the gift of breathing in order to be alive, and the gift of thinking in order to understand.

While you may or may not take all these gifts for granted: there is one you most surely forget to appreciate as a gift now and then: the gift of today. In spite of the fact that we call today the present, we often take it for granted because we get caught in so many other things: hectic schedules, concerns about our health, our financial situation, work related problems, family or other issues, you name it. But today is here: it came, and is slowly progressing. It will last exactly 24 hours, which equals 1,440 minutes, or 86,400 seconds. Today resembles our life in that regard: it is limited and dying from the moment it is born. Here are three important thoughts to consider about today:

1) Once today is gone, it never comes back, so everything you do now will be history from tomorrow on. If you behave rash and do something you regret later, you may try to correct it -and even succeed-, but you will never be able to undo it. This also means that today is an important foundation for the rest of your life, because you are making choices and decisions that will affect your future.

2) You have a limited number of days available in your life, and no one knows how many you have left. Anything that is available in a limited supply is considered a scarce good in economic terms. With everything becoming increasingly edgy, and the pace of life picking up continuously, this scarce day cannot be wasted. Of course it depends on you to determine what "wasting" your day looks like, but I'm sure you know.

3) Today is a great beginning, because it's the first day of the rest of your life. No matter what you did in the past: today offers you a chance to start something wonderful. If there is a dream you wanted to realize, today is a good day to seriously start working on it. If you wanted to change a bad habit or correct something wrong, today is a great day to do that. There is nothing that cannot happen today, so why not make it happen?

A Chinese proverb states, Today is the tomorrow we worried about yesterday. Make sure you don't make today the yesterday you regret tomorrow...