Squeezing the K


How to Bridge the Gap of Inequality and Justice in a Post COVID-19 World.

When the stock market crashed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic a lot of people hoped it would be short lived and the economy would recover quickly and strongly to the benefit of all.  And if you could measure the strength of the economy with just one metric you could make a strong case that is exactly what happened. 

Stock markets all around the world hit record highs in late February, lost approximately 40% of their value by mid March and had recovered about 90% of their February highs by mid April.  A classic V-shape that proponents and cheerleaders have been pointing to as evidence that the worst is over, and life will soon be back to “normal”. 

But the economy is not just one number.  Deeper thinking economists are increasingly pointing to a widening gap between the classes.  Those who could take advantage and buy while prices were low are reaping the rewards those that those who couldn’t, the ones who lost their jobs, even for just a few weeks, are still struggling and will continue to struggle for months and maybe even years to come. 

And it’s not just the uber-wealthy who took advantage.  The upper side of the middle class has made out like bandits too.   Owing to lock down restrictions on when and were to spend, savings rates and investments in home improvements have gone way up.  According to this article from The Huffington Post, (https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/debt-insolvency-canada-wealth_ca_5f870abec5b6c4bb5471e28c) when you’re stuck at home but still working and earning an income, one of the only things you can do is work on your house.  Home ownership was already a stretch for many younger workers and those in the service sector, now with all the renovations being done, prices across the country have increased by 8.6% on the year.  The greatest gateway to lifelong financial security, personal real-estate, is almost certainly out of reach for large swaths of the population. 

Large wealth disparities between the classes is a recipe for social unrest and economic collapse.  It’s what spawned revolutions in France and Russia, coups in Iran and Chile, and the civil rights movement in the United States.  Even peaceful revolutions like the ones that ended Apartheid in South Africa or triggered the reunification of Germany had roots in economic inequality. 

In the spring of 1969 NBC aired Season 3, Episode 21 of Star Trek (The Original Series) called “The Cloud Minders”.  The plot was progressive for it’s time but has become a familiar one in dystopian literature and film since.  While on a diplomatic mission to a new planet, Kirk and Spock are caught up in a revolution in a society where intellectuals and artists live in a utopian city in the sky while the rest of the population toils in mines on the barren surface below.  At one point, after being attacked by rebels on the plant’s surface Spock muses,

“This troubled planet is a place of the most violent contrasts.  Those who receive the rewards are totally separated from those who shoulder the burdens. It is not a wise leadership.”

Star Trek, Season 3, Episode 21, Gene Roddenberry, NBC

One of the things that COVID-19 has brought to the forefront is that the people who support the vast majority, the so-called front lines in health care, food service and consumer goods are grossly undervalued.  Revolution may not be imminent like it was in the days of the Czars or the fictional world of The Cloud Minders, but revolutions rarely start quickly, they simmer and grow over time.  COVID-19 is a wakeup call.  With the right kind of leadership, the K-shaped recovery could be the beginning of a revolution in the way we value certain types of work.  The question is, will it be a peaceful revolution or a violent one?

The way I see it we need at least three things to help the revolution evolve along the most peaceful path possible. 

First off, we each need to re-evaluate our place in society.  Back in June my father, best known to my loyal readers as Pastor Dad, wrote an op-ed for an influential Christian Magazine called “I Am My Brother’s Keeper.”  In it he asserted that the way of love, or more specifically the way we show love for our neighbours, is to wear a mask.  Meekness or mutual submission to authority is not a sheepish game of follow the leader, it is a powerful assertion of collective strength in protection of the weak and vulnerable.

Second, we need to invest in the infrastructure of justice.  Let me be quick to point out here that justice is not shorthand for law and order.  Law and order without peace and justice leads to violence and oppression.  A just society is one that values each person’s contribution with equity and compassion and provides access for those without resources.  A just society closes the gap of the K with things like free health care, public education, housing, laws that are applied equally and punishments that fit the crime. 

Third, we need to exercise patience and grace.  Regardless of where you find yourself on the K, a return to “normal” will be long and far from smooth.  Some people will come out of this recovery stronger than before, but many more will struggle with new realities that the post COVID world will bring.  As a collective society we must recognize that while we are all in the same storm, we are not all in the same boat.  Some, those with the most resources and the best access are sailing through on luxury cruise liners, while more are clinging to life rafts and praying for a break.  Grace can take many forms, it can be as simple as following Pastor Dad’s lead and wearing a mask, staying clear of large gatherings, and supporting local businesses.  But for those with more resources it should also be active support of hospitals and charities that help the poor and vulnerable. 

At the beginning of the pandemic we were all encouraged to do our part to flatten the curve.  As a second waive moves around the world we need to remain vigilant in that regard and as we move forward into a post COVID world we need to be mindful of those on the lower rungs of society. 

Keep flattening the curve and work diligently to squeeze the K. 

Cleaning Out The Junk Drawer


How Social Isolation Is Leading to Societal Reckoning

I’ve never been an overly social person.  I work in a solo environment, I prefer to be self-directed and self-motivated and have always gravitated to jobs, goals, tasks, and hobbies that are best done alone.  That is why Triathlon is my sport of choice, I would much rather take my bike out, alone, for a 50 km ride than walk around a golf course with 3 other guys for 4 hours.

You could say that makes me an extreme introvert.  But it’s not the whole story.

My work is necessarily social.  I go out and talk to people, listen, and interact on a very personal, some might even say intimate, level.  I’ve never enjoyed live networking events, too loud and superficial, so over the years I have perfected the use of tools like the telephone, email and social media to facilitate the personal connection required while still providing the physical distance I crave.  A certain degree of physical distancing is comfortable for me and serves to make it easier to achieve the level of personal connection required to do my job.   Somehow speaking to a disembodied voice on the phone is less threatening than revealing the particulars of life face to face.

At the beginning of this pandemic I slipped into the new protocols, the elimination of in person meetings in favor of video conferencing and more phone and email interaction etc., like an old shoe.  We all had to learn new ways of doing things and for the most part we’ve done pretty well.  Humans are nothing if not adaptive.  But this prolonged level of isolation and introspection has pushed much of society to consider and examine things in ways that we aren’t used to.  Once the pandemic’s initial shock wore off and we started to settle into a different routine the cracks in our society made up of social, racial, and economic inequality, began to show.  These cracks are not new, it’s just that before we could cover them up with our busyness, now we have to sit with them and ask “what does this mean to me, and to our collective experience?”

Ashlee Eiland, author of the book “Human(Kind); How Reclaiming Human Worth and Embracing Radical Kindness Will Bring Us Back Together” recently likened the experience to cleaning out a junk drawer.  She said that it’s as if the junk drawer of society has been dumped out and we are now being forced to sort through it, deciding what to keep and what to throw away.

Here are a few observations learned listening to her and examining my life these past few months.

1 – We must rethink how we interact with and serve one another. 

Beware of a creeping sense of judgmentalism, it’s one thing to say you respect everyone regardless of race, sexual-orientation or religion, it’s quite another to put into practice especially when those things lead to differences in the way people think and act.  Are you engaging with people through self-righteousness or a genuine desire to value the individual?  Are you open to learning from those with a different perspective?

2 – Much of the work ahead will be conducted in the hidden places.

Real change happens when people of different backgrounds get in proximity with one another and begin working and learning together.  This does not happen on the streets or the television screens, it happens on the shop floors and boardrooms of society.  And it does not happen overnight.  How long does it take to cultivate an authentic relationship?  No one really knows.

3 – We must be willing to move forward without fear.

Someone will say or do the wrong thing, someone will be misunderstood, and someone will be offended.  When people of differing backgrounds get together we can’t avoid these things, but if we act with humility they can be easily addressed and corrected before they cause too much damage.  This will be a long process and we must not grow weary.

The heart of the matter is this; when we allow grace and humility fill us it flows out into the world like a overflowing river quenching the longing of a thirsty world.  We’ve been in the desert for a long time, the world is crying out for water, grace and humility are the eternal spring that we all need to drink from right now.

How do we do that?  Come thirsty but stay humble.

 

The Only Thing That There’s Just Too Little Of


In the spring of 1965 singer Jackie De Shannon released the single “What the World Needs Now is Love.”  By mid-July the song, written and produced by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, had worked its way up the Billboard Hot 100 to peak at number seven in the US and number one in Canada.  Written during the Vietnam War it is a folk anthem originally intended to bring people together regardless of their political views.

The song popped into my head recently while I was flipping through some journal notes.   A few months back I wrote, “every community of love can love more”.  As I read those words, quite unbidding into my head popped the lyric:

It’s the only thing, that there’s just too little of.

We live in anxious times.  Back in February I heard that over a quarter of Canadians surveyed said they would be fearful of being around someone with a serious mental illness.  I get it, mental illness has a unique capacity to make us all feel helpless.  If you have ever spent time with someone suffering from anxiety or depression you know that it doesn’t take long before you are feeling completely inadequate to help.  At that point it’s just easier to walk away and leave the afflicted to the “professionals” but the fact is that people suffering from mental illness need community more than they need clinical intervention.

And that was also before COVID, before we all started dealing with enough severe stress and anxiety to be classified as mentally ill ourselves.

It’s true that perfect love drives out fear, but repeated exposure just desensitizes us.  So the best way to manage fear and anxiety is to suck the drama out of it and just admit that it is part of being human.  Draw together, do not run in fear from one another.  We are designed to bring healing and wholeness through one another.

In addition to love at times like this we could also use a bit more justice and a bit more hope.

“Lady Justice” – there is a reason she’s always blindfolded

Justice has been a big topic lately, ever since race relations successfully bumped COVID19 off the front pages of newspapers around the world.  But we don’t want just any justice, we want the kind that puts people and things into right relationships with one another and justice that doesn’t add burdens to the already over-burdened.

And we need hope, the kind that is tied up with honesty.  We need the kind of hope that says we believe things can get better while acknowledging that things aren’t right at the present moment.

So, I guess there is more than one thing that there is just too little of, Love, Justice and Hope to name a few.  But that wouldn’t make for a very good song.

 

 

 

 

Core Messaging


I recently had the pleasure of reconnecting with an old friend and colleague.

Paul was a financial advisor in the same office where I work but about a year ago, he moved on and started a consulting firm for tech start-ups and embarked on a professional speaking carrier.  Because I write a lot and produce short videos I wanted to meet up with Paul and pick his brain on how to get more exposure and start booking speaking gigs myself.

Our conversation was wide ranging, but Paul’s advise could be boiled down to just one key point.

  • “Get super clear about your core message and repeat it over again every chance you get.”

What’s my core message?  I’ll get to that in a minute.

Bruxy Cavey, another mentor of mine broke his core message down into three separate statements, each one more succinct than the one before.  In doing so he was able to clarify his message and use each of the statements in different contexts.  The longer statements are good for writing and speaking when there is adequate time to express the nuances of the message while the shorter statements are better as conversation starters or when brevity is required.  Bruxy’s core message can be easily stated in one word, three words and thirty words.

The other thing Paul encouraged me to do is to claim a title for myself, something that clearly states who and what I am and aligns cleanly with my core messaging.  The title itself should say as much as possible without the need for further explanation.

So here it is, taking a page each from Bruxy and Paul my core message broken down into a five-word title, and then clearly stated in five letters, five words and five paragraphs.

**************************************************************************

I am an Ambassador of Peace and Justice.

My core message in five letters is: Let go.

My core message in five words is:  Peace without Justice is Oppression.

My core message in five paragraphs is:

God is Love.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and made mankind both ruler and caretaker over all that He had created.  There was only love.  There was no war, no violence of any kind, no injustice and no oppression.

Mankind was deceived into thinking that God was holding something back and rebelled.  We set up systems and institutions to try and take control of that which belongs to God and which He was freely sharing with us.

As a result, the world is broken.   All man-made systems and institutions (including our government and the church) are broken.

But God is still Love and wants nothing more than to reconcile with His creation.  Mankind is still in rebellion and cannot let go of the control we have taken for ourselves.  Reconciliation with God is the only cure for our broken world.  That reconciliation begins with mankind letting go and taking a posture of surrender, gratitude and other-centredness.

That is my core message.

Further to the message I have chosen the word “meekness” to describe the mindset that mankind needs to ascribe to in order to achieve reconciliation with God.  Meekness is not weakness, it is the willing submission of personal power, entitlement and ego, a form of surrender and laying down in the presence of God’s pure love.

The meek shall inherit the earth but only through letting go.  Peace shall be achieved but only through justice.  And God’s creation shall be restored but only through surrender.

My Peace Statement


Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they will be called Sons of God.- Matthew 5:9

I originally wrote out my Peace Statement in August of 2009.  It was actually the first thing I ever posted on line.  In light of recent events I thought it might be a good idea to revisit and update what I wrote back then.It’s been over 8 years since I started my first blog but so little has changed. 

Through the reading of Naomi Klein’s book “The Shock Doctrine”; one of the things that kept coming back to me is a phrase that I coined about 10 years ago while sitting in church and listening to a sermon on peacemaking just after Remembrance Day.

Peace without Justice is Oppression

I grew up Mennonite and was baptized into the community of Nairn Mennonite Church, just north of London ON at the age of 17.  Since the very beginning the Mennonite Church has officially declared itself to be a Peace Church.  But when you make a declaration like that what you are really saying is that you want to protect Justice, otherwise you’re just ignoring and oppressing people with dissenting views.  Peace is not simply the absence of war; it is the presence of justice and the absence of oppression.

Oppression does not have to be overt either.  It can be very subtle.  If we aren’t careful the majority rule or democracy in general can become distorted and look more like – biggest guns rule, elite rule, wealthy rule, or educated rule.

We in the wealthy West, or more accurately the North West are often times inadvertently waging a war of oppression on the developing regions of the world, mostly to the South and East of us.  Over the past 30 years, and most rapidly since the fall of the Berlin Wall, governments, corporations and wealthy individuals have exploited the poor and uneducated in the developing world for their own gain.  They have extracted natural resources and caused unprecedented damage to the environment, corrupted and interfered in local government affairs and generally ignored human rights all in the name of profit.

What are the oppressed people of the world to do?  They do not have the resources to stand up to us economically, nor do they have the education or skills that are useful to the world wide economy, so they strike back in the only way they can.   The world wide drive to globalization and homogenization of cultures through the economic domination of the North West has given rise to terrorism.

One of the things I have learned while exploring this Rabbit Hole is that we cannot continue to fight terrorism with guns.  Greg Mortensen – founder of the Central Asia Institute is the chief driving force behind the building of over 50 schools in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.  The schools he has founded equally educate both boys and girls.   At a joint meeting of US congressmen and Pentagon officials Mortensen stated that:

The war on terror should be fought with books, not bombs. – Greg Mortensen (Central Asia Institute)

This has been a recurrent theme in all of a lot of my own research.  When we give the poor access to knowledge we can bring them into fuller participation in the global economy and help to greatly reduce terrorism and increase security.

For more information on the topic of reducing terrorism through education, I highly recommended Mortensen’s book Three Cups of Tea; One Mans Mission to Promote Peace, One School at a Time”  Check it out and let me know what you think.

 

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From Selma to Mumbai, and Death in a Concentration Camp


Private, reflexive, ventilated rage is often justified today as a proper attack on “oppression”. The problem with that is that, once it has drawn attention to a grievance, it does not do much to change anything. Change, over the long haul, requires organization, patience, good humor, and the ability to negotiate and compromise; all of which may be energized by anger or killed by it. – Carol Tavris; Anger, the Misunderstood Emotion

selma

I used to be a very angry person. I went through a period in my life when everything seemed to go wrong. In the course of just a few years, I lost everything, my business, my house, the respect of my peers, my social circle, my pride and to large extent my sense of self. And it ticked me off to no end.

I realized I was headed for disaster one evening, after a particularly hard day when I opened my pantry and reached for the vodka bottle, not because I was thirsty, and not because I was particularly interested in enjoying the taste of an expertly mixed martini but because I wanted to relax and forget the failures of the day and the looming pressures of the coming week. I’m happy to say that I stopped myself from pouring that drink and have never attempted to use alcohol to self-medicate my depression since.

It was around that time, about 10 years ago now, that I started to research all the things that make up this blog and my personal journey from financial basket case to coach, author and trainer in personal finance and behavioral economics.

In looking at the world of macro-economics, against a backdrop of geopolitics one of the first thesis statements I coined was that “Peace without Justice is Oppression”. (Read the post I wrote about it way back in 2009 here) Lately, as I’ve been working through the implications of Anger and Self-Control (see my last two posts here – and here), I also had the opportunity to watch Selma, last year’s Academy Award Winning portrayal of the civil rights march from Selma Alabama to the state capital of Montgomery which took place in the summer of 1965.

If peace without justice is oppression, as I originally theorized in 2006, then oppression can and should be met with resistance but as Carol Tavris so aptly points out in her excellent exploration of the emotion of Anger, quoted above, it does little to create lasting change.  Change requires organization, and patience. Martin Luther King led a non-violent movement that demanded the attention of the political leaders of his day through organization, and patience. In the film portrayal of the events at Selma it is interesting to note that then President Lyndon Johnson was willing to work with King, meeting with him on several occasions both publicly and privately to negotiate a settlement. Johnson was willing to work with King as opposed to his contemporary Malcolm X because of his stance on non-violent protest. When the march in Selma turned violent, caught on film by the news media, it was clear that the police had initiated an attack on unarmed civilians. In that moment the Civil Rights movement became a movement of peaceful citizens, versus oppressive and violent government and although it still took some time, the  battle was won (or lost depending on how you look at it) the day police charged the marchers on horseback with tear gas and billy clubs.

The same thing happened in Mumbai and the surrounding Indian country side when Ghandi stood up to British rule during the 1930s and 40s. It happened again in Finkenwalde Germany when Dietrich Bonheoffer stood up to the Nazi control of the Lutheran Church.

All of these men have at least three things in common. First off, they were angry. They saw the injustice and the oppression and said, “This is not peace” and they couldn’t stand by while innocent people were oppressed. Second, they organized a non-violent movement to unsettle and unseat their oppressors. And thirdly, although they were all ultimately successful in their bids to rid the world of the oppressive practices that they were against they were all assassinated by those who sought to maintain the status quo.

Oppressive regimes are ultimately not interested in justice and they will seek to vilify and discredit anyone who points that out to them. In the end, they will fail, justice always wins in the end, but when your hold on power is built on violent oppression, the last gasp of the oppressor is always violent, it’s all you know. As the pacifist, non-violent movement gains power the oppressor becomes like a cornered animal and in a last ditch effort to regain control he will lash out with the only tool he knows how to use.   But by then it’s too late, the tide has turned and by killing the leader of the movement to unseat them they only confirm what everyone has already come to know.

Peace without Justice is Oppression and justice leads to equality, mercy, non-violence and grace. That is true peace, and that is what King, Ghandi and Bonheoffer all sought through their work.

Is anyone oppressing you in their quest for peace? How can you organize to non-violently oppose it? More uncomfortably, are you oppressing anyone in your own quest for peace?

Gut check time! Are you ready to march on your own private Selma?

What’s Religion For?


Many people tell me they’d rather be spiritual than religious.  Or that they believe in God but don’t like “the Church”.  Or some variation of that basic theme that says I’d rather not bother with any kind of formal community of believers.

Honestly, I sympathize with that sentiment.  Except for a brief stint in my early twenties when I was travelling around Western Canada as a stage hand on a multi-media tour, I have always had a church that I could call home.  But there have been many times when I stood back and looked at what my church was saying and doing and felt that there was a piece missing.

All the outward appearances of church have always been there.  There has always been a building, usually with some distinctive architecture that made it obviously a church, were we went to meet once a week.  The meeting has always started with some form of music, followed by a lecture from a “paid professionally holy man (sometimes a woman)” a few opportunities to “serve the broader community” and a bit of prayer.   Once or twice the churches I’ve been a part of have met in rented multi-use facilities, like a school and some have switched up the order of things but the basic premise has always been the same.   Spend six days living your “regular” life and come to church once a week to hear what God has to say about it.

So what does God have to say about it?

Recently I was challenged with this very question while looking at the story of Zechariah.  Zechariah was a prophet who spoke to the Israelites that remained in Babylon after the first wave of exiles had been allowed to return to Jerusalem.  He writes during the reign of Darius, king of Persia of a vision he receives from the Lord.

Even though Darius is fairly tolerant of the Jewish minority in his midst the people are still very much oppressed by society at large and so much of the book of Zechariah is a look back through history at the hardships that the Jewish people had already endured with a little bit of hope sprinkled in for good measure.

This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ [Zechariah 1:3]

By the time we get to chapter 7 we have a very clear understanding of what it is that the people have done wrong in order to be treated this way.  Simply put even though they are going through the motions of their religion they have turned away from God.

Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted? [Zechariah 7:5]

God cuts right to the heart of the issue by asking a question that most religious people find hard to hear, even today.  Are you really doing all this for me or for yourself?  What’s all this religion really for?

Lest he be misunderstood God doesn’t leave us hanging for long.

And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah:  “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.  Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’ [Zechariah 7:8-10]

That’s it, that’s what God wants.  That is how you show true loyalty to God and to one another.  It’s not about a building, or the way in which you format your services or anything else.  It’s about how you live the other six days of the week.

I still believe we need faith communities, groups of people who worship God together on a regular basis but the purpose of the meeting is not to make us feel better about God and it certainly isn’t to make God feel good.  The purpose of our meeting together is to equip the community in the work set out for us; to bring justice mercy and compassion to the world.

That’s what religion is for – how are you doing?

What’s Your Attitude Toward Peacemaking?


 Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God. [Matthew 5:9]

As if verse 8 wasn’t radical enough, Jesus ups the ante yet again by telling his listeners that it’s not only possible to see God face to face, you can also be His child.  This is huge! If his audience thought he was crazy before…

In the Jewish culture, and many other ancient cultures for that matter, people were defined by their family line.  Genealogy was important.  It was how people were recognized, how it was determined the kind of work they would do and even where they could live.  For the first 30 or so years of his life Jesus was known as the son of Joseph a carpenter who lived in Nazareth.  That family line determined who he was, what he could do and were he could go.  But the gospel writers are also quick to point out that a little further back Jesus also came from the line of the great King David and therefore was afforded a certain amount of respect among the temple elite.   Now he’s telling his listeners that if you align yourself with the way of peacemaking you will become a family member with the creator of the universe.       

That’s just nuts! What does that even mean?!?

Here in Canada we are proud of our military heritage as peacekeepers.  The first United Nations peacekeeping mission sent to defuse the Suez Crisis in 1956 was the brainchild of Lester B Pearson.   At the time Pearson was Canada’s Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Ambassador to the United Nations.  For his efforts in creating UN Peacekeeping and the structure of the UN Security Council Pearson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957 and is viewed as hero in Canada.  It was enough to get an airport named after him and to be elected Prime Minister. 

But it’s easy to confuse peacekeeping with peacemaking.  They are not the same; peacekeeping assumes a starting point from a state of peace that is in danger of eroding while peacemaking assumes a starting point from a state of conflict toward a state of peace.  Peacemaking is actively trying to make things better while peacekeeping is passively protecting the status quo.

 It’s clear that Jesus is not calling us to protect that status quo he’s calling us to something better.  But what’s better than peace?

With righteousness he will judge the needy;
    with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. [Isaiah 11:4a]

 Jesus is calling us to a special kind of peace that is more than just the absence of conflict.  I’ve said it on this page before but it’s worth repeating; I firmly believe that peace without justice is nothing more than oppression and just by removing open hostilities from a situation you have not achieved a real, lasting peace.  The kind of peace Jesus is talking about is much bigger than just the absence of conflict.  It is holistic and just.

Blessed are those who work for complete justice in the face of conflict, for they will be welcome in God’s family. 

So what’s your attitude toward peacemaking?