Monday, September 26, 2005

Aren't we all Constant Gardeners?

A review of the new movie, the Constant Gardener with Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz was newly posted on Common Dreams (which offers writings that are current politics, science notes, philosophies etc. and yes, slightly left leaning!) .

I'd seen the movie. The review focused on the Big Pharmaceutical companies and their "ethics" of using the poor in Africa to test new drugs on an unsuspecting (and disposable) population who often end up crippled guinea pigs. Based on the John LeCarre novel, the movie of course is fiction, but as this writer says--it will be interesting to see if this movie creates a PR nightmare for the pharmaceutical companies because it has a strong ring of plausibility.

But to me, he missed the point entirely. Yes, big pharmaceutical companies are made out to be quite evil, but in reality they are just one example in a general microcosm of how we run this planet. The players in the movie do exactly what every executive or CEO in the world does--makes every decision based on "maximize shareholder return". If that means you murder people or use them as cheap testing subjects it is an acceptable necessity because we have created a world completely devoted to making money. Thus, anything that makes money (and improves stockholder returns) can and must be done even if that means destroying the earth, air, water, or, in the case of the Constant Gardener--people!

All the characters in this movie are caught in this game although when the Ralph Fiennes character asks innocently "How did this happen?", the response was "Justin, it was happening all around you. You couldn't see it because you were contented to stay in your garden". To me...this is what the movie is really all about.

This same question is one we all need to ask ourselves as well. How did we let the world get to a stage where "making money" is the primary driver of all the decisions of the world? I'm afraid our response will be similar to Justin's....we were content to stay in our gardens. (I am as guilty of this as anyone!) And while it is easy to demonize Big Pharma--quite frankly, we are all a part of this game! And we must all take responsibility.

Every publicly traded company in the world has the same mantra that drives every business decision--"Maximize shareholder returns". And a CEO will tell you that he has a "fiduciary responsibility" to his shareholders because shareholders "own" the company. If he doesn't do this, he'll be replaced with someone else who will do this. And we all accept this as totally normal. Of course stock prices must increase and a company must do everything possible to succeed at this because stockholders demand it since they own the company. You're probably shaking your head "yes", as you read this. Of course--everyone knows this is true.

But its only true because we made it true. It doesn't have to be true at all. To that, I direct you to a wonderful book that will help you get out of the garden and begin to see what's going on around you! The book is The Divine Right of Capital by Marjorie Kelly.

If the Constant Gardener makes you angry as the reviewer at Common Dreams hopes, I hope it will spur you to action. A movie is just fiction and is easy to dismiss. When you read The Divine Right of Capital, you'll see how this fictional movie dramatizes a world-wide reality.

Long ago we got ourselves kicked out of the Garden of Eden--only to create an even bigger mess. It is time we kicked ourselves out of the Garden of Money. As the Constant Gardener so vividly shows us, it is time we stopped being content to let corporations and the mantra of 'maximizing shareholder return', run the world.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Mrs. Bush is not alone

Many people were shocked to hear Mrs. Bush's comment about Hurricane Katrina's victims sheltered at the Astrodome. Her comment that "Many of these people were disadvantaged so this is working out quite well for them." By "this" of course, she meant that being taken care of at the Astrodome by being fed, housed and soon to get money was a step up from where they were. As if, before they didn't really have a life that was 'this good'. Her comments show a true lack of understanding that even people who don't have a lot of material goods or money actually have real lives. And in these lives they enjoy daily life, have families they are committed to and communities they want to remain in despite not pulling up to their driveway in a Mercedes as they walk into their McMansion!

On the heels of this though, I had my own real life encounter with this attitude. I was talking with folks who work in the social services system (the people who help the people that Mrs. Bush is talking about!). We were exploring the Life Puzzle model and the Choosing Continuum and the need to expose people to the 6-10, proactive side. And then I heard it "Well, you can't really expect these people with so few resources to actually use this information, can you?" Implied in this statement is just what Mrs. Bush said--that if you are poor, you somehow don't actually have a life and any attempt to help people grow whole and dynamic lives is lost on this population!

After I deep breathed so I wouldn't scream because I have heard this so often over the last 25 years, I calmly replied. "Yes, not only do I expect that this group can use this information, I know that they do! I've worked with this population and I've seen time and time again them grab onto the value in the Life Puzzle model and begin to grow their lives." Having lots of money and stuff has nothing to do with the ability or desire to create a great life! Whether you have massive resources or extremely modest resources, you will still eat, exercise, have feelings that need to be managed, need to think proactively, be a good communicator, build healthy relationships, connect to your sexual self, learn to be a good parent, work, play, manage your finances, deal with special challenges (like an economically racist culture), live your spirituality and ultimately have to deal with death and thus the meaning of your life. (these are the 16 core areas of the Life Puzzle) Being rich or poor doesn't matter!

What I also wanted to say to this group was this: One of the biggest problems is that this population has to deal with a system that thinks they are poor, pathetic and helpless and that's about all they are and can be. Thus, when someone comes in for help, they receive it from a 0-5, do enough to get by, reactive system. The professional wants to help, but it will come with an attachment much like Mrs. Bush's attitude--whatever we give them will be better than where they were--because we don't really think they're in the position to have whole and dynamic lives since they don't have the money/resources to live "right". So why bother working with them from the 6-10 perspective?

We are all Life Puzzles under construction! Mrs. Bush and all those in the 'helping systems' I say, begin to look at everyone you meet as a Life Puzzle under construction. Not just those with lots of resources but everyone. Because we all have the same 16 core areas, 5 edges that create the SELF--making a common bond for all while maintaining our own unique soul essence. Mrs. Bush--that black woman with three kids sleeping on a cot in the Astrodome with a plastic bag filled with their only remaining possessions is no different than you. She wants to wake up tomorrow and build a whole and dynamic life, just like you. See that and you will see why your comment that "this is working out quite well for them", shows how your own Life Puzzle needs more work too! You might discover that Hurricane Katrina offers you some lessons for growth--and maybe that comment could work out quite well for you then too.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

New opportunities in rising gas prices?

The ripple effect of rising gas prices is just beginning to be recognized. One that a friend mentioned was how the increased gas cost was going to impact already struggling school systems. As he said, "If you've budgeted for the 2005-2006 school year a certain amount towards gas for the buses, what happens when gas goes up fifty, seventy-five cents or even a dollar more per gallon? Considering that most school systems are running on wire thin budgets, where will this extra money come from?

It made me think--perhaps this is a good time to ask the question a different way. Instead of trying to find extra money to channel into the gas pump--maybe there's another opportunity here. What if we didn't bus our kids to school 5 days a week? What if they went only 3 days a week and the other two days incorporated neighborhood 'block' schooling. This would require parents and the community to be intricately involved with their children. And while I know this would take some logistics and coordination, it isn't impossible to do. Keep the 'block' small enough to build the community. That means not hundreds of kids, but maybe 20 maximum. The parents would work as a team to ensure leadership for those two days each week. Then build a 'school' group that has multiple ages in it (which we know is very beneficial to younger and older children!). Together, these children will co-support each other in creating a learning environment.

It would offer an opportunity to expand "education" beyond the traditional academic/book learning and enable other necessary components of learning to finally be addressed. For example, we know children need to exercise more and also need more hands on learning. So on these two days, children could be much more physically active--perhaps learning yoga, learning ballroom dancing as a group learning etc. As for hands on learning, field trips, starting local container gardening (science!) or perhaps there is a local business that the kids could 'work at' for one afternoon a week--learning what it really takes to run a business. This could include learning book keeping, practicing customer service, discovering how to place orders to vendors etc. Real life learning teaches a lot! If one of the adults knows how to play guitar or piano, music lessons could be offered. In other words, tap into the energy of the community and the talents that are available in it. (How did Ray Charles learn to play piano? It wasn't in school--it was by watching a neighbor!)

This is just one area where rising gas prices can give us an opportunity to transform old systems. Where once we were able to be 'car' dependent and created our lives in our cars on the way to somewhere--perhaps it is time to create our lives in our neighborhoods on the way to NOW.